Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, now a Harvard professor, isn't too impressed with the heavy fines the government has levied on the country's biggest banks.
Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have been forced to cough up billions of dollars to pay for their misdeeds during the financial crisis.
"The current trend towards large fines as the response to corporate wrongdoing seems to promote a somewhat unattractive combination of individual incentives," Summers writes in the Financial Times
"Managers do not find it personally costly to part with even billions of dollars of their shareholders’ money, especially when fines represent only a small fraction of total market value.
Paying with shareholders’ money as the price of protecting themselves is a very attractive trade-off."
Regulators come out looking light fighters for good, Summers notes. Though he doesn't say so explicitly, it seems fair to conclude that shareholders are getting stiffed.
"In the process, punishment of individuals who do wrong or who fail in their managerial duty to monitor the behavior of their subordinates is short-changed. And deterrence is undermined," Summers writes.
Former Wells Fargo CEO Dick Kovacevich agrees with him.
"Why are we charging the stock holders instead of going after the people who did wrong?" he asked on CNBC
. "Corporations don't engage in criminal behavior. They don't take advantage of innocent people. People do."
So why is the government chasing down banks instead of their executives?
"They are going after corporations because they can," Kovacevich said. "They aren't going after the individual because it takes a long time to do so."
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