Saturday, April 5, 2014

A new book idea for Michael Lewis...

Flash Boys, Michael Lewis's latest book, is no doubt flying off the shelves. He exposes how high frequency traders pay for the speed that allows them to front run stock trades. The firms that pay are given the ability to literally see a buy order heading toward a willing seller, jump in front, buy the offer then sell it to the unsuspecting sucker for a penny or two more per share. Times that by billions of shares and we're talking real money.

I have an idea for Lewis's next book. It would be along the very same lines, in that he'd be exposing yet another front running scheme. And this one has far greater consequences for society at large than the phenomenon he describes in Flash Boys.

It goes like this: The execs of Large Corporation A receive a tip from the office of a senator/congressman/president (whose campaign they helped fund) that a new regulation is about to be proposed that would directly impact their bottom line. They, in essence, can see it coming in time to get in front of it and tweak it to their benefit. They may sweeten the pot a bit to get their way, and that they will if it means gaining an edge.

While, with just a little research, Lewis can write a book full of examples of how monied interests bend legislation in their favor, I'll here offer up just the first three that come to mind:

Senator Richard Durbin saved his supporter, Wal-Mart, billions by getting the Durbin Amendment tacked onto recent financial reform regulation. He heralded the halving of the per swipe fee retailers pay for debit card transactions as a win for the consumer. Suggesting that the likes of Wal-Mart would surely pass those savings onto their customers. Well, let's hope they did (of course we know better), because as I featured in Leaving Liberty?, excerpt below, the banks surely wouldn't sit still while Washington effectively transferred billions of their revenue to Wal-Mart:
The question now is, how will shareholders, employees and customers share the pain inflicted by the Durbin Amendment? Lower deposit rates, higher loan fees, maybe? I wonder if the amendment won’t ultimately cost the customer more than $5 a month.

Well, guess what! Just three weeks later, a New York Times headline reads, Banks Quietly Ramping Up Costs to Consumers (Dash 2012). See!

It was discovered that 70 lines of a recent 81 line bill regulating financial derivatives were written by folks at Citigroup. No kidding! Here's Forbes on the subject:
According to the New York Times, lobbyists from Citigroup played a major role in the bill’s creation: “Citigroup’s recommendations were reflected in more than 70 lines of the House committee’s 85-line bill,” Eric Lipton and Ben Protess write. “Two crucial paragraphs, prepared by Citigroup in conjunction with other Wall Street banks, were copied nearly word for word. (Lawmakers changed two words to make them plural.)”

Data: MapLight analysis of campaign contributions to members of the House of Representatives from interest groups supporting and opposing H.R. 992 from January 1, 2011—December 31, 2012. Data source:

Citigroup has given $503,150 to current members of the House of Representatives. Representative Jim Himes, D-Conn., has received $66,450 from Citigroup, more than any other member of the House of Representatives. Himes is a co-sponsor of the bill. Co-sponsors of the bill have received, on average, 16.8 times more money from Citigroup than have members of the House who have not signed on as co-sponsors.Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has received $917,500 from interests supporting the bill, more than any other member of the House of Representatives.
Representative Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., the primary sponsor of the bill, has received $136,500 from the Securities and Investment industry, more than from any other industry.

In 2009, the American Steelworkers Union succeeded in convincing the President that America should tariff Chinese tires. Here's a snippet from , and white board lesson, on the subject:
Now I'll add the manipulation: The United Steelworkers Union cries foul (actually happened in '09 by the way), buys favor with a U.S. President (Obama) - who points to the trade deficit with the surely-cheating China - and Voilà! we tariff Tianjin Tires. And, alleluia, we save American (tire manufacturing) jobs. And, alas, we destroy American (tech industry, etc.) jobs.

If Lewis runs with this one, he'll surely have yet another blockbuster on his hands...

1 comment:

  1. […] Marty Mazorra suggests a topic for Michael Lewis’s next book. […]