Back in June I wrote a quick sarcastic piece about what I thought (at the time) was an unfolding banking scandal in England. Since then Libor has grown like a cancer, into a full fledged international crisis. Here’s a sample of coverage.
Though, for most, the London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (Libor) interest rate fixing scandal appears to be distant and far too complex to understand, its potential consequences may be as economically devastating as a world war.
The Libor is used to set payments on $800 trillion worth of financial instruments. It sets the prices that people and corporations pay for loans and receive for savings. Given that the fraud impacted $10 trillion in consumer loans, the Libor scandal will likely leave a long list of previous financial scandals that contributed to the Great Recession look like child’s play.
It also pulls back the curtain on the mechanisms behind the world economy, its anti-social priorities, its willingness to gamble away the future of billions of people, and the government’s collusion in these operations. The Libor scandal reveals that the “invisible hand” Adam Smith spoke of in explaining how a capitalist economy regulates itself has been transformed into the trained hand of a swindler.
The case of the rigged Libor turns out to be the scandal that just keeps on giving. It reveals a great deal about the behaviour of the Federal Reserve Board and central banks more generally.
Last month, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke gave testimony before Congress in which he said that he had become aware of evidence that banks in the UK were rigging the Libor – the inter-bank lending rate and one of the primary benchmarks for short-term interest rates – in the autumn of 2008. According to Bernanke, he called this to the attention of Mervyn King, the head of the Bank of England. Apparently Mervyn King did nothing, since the rigging continued, but Bernanke told Congress there was nothing more that he could do.
The implications of Bernanke’s claim are incredible. There are trillions of dollars of car loans, mortgages and other debts, in the United States, tied to the Libor. There are also huge derivative contracts whose value depends on the Libor at a moment in time. People were winning or losing on these deals not based on the market, but rather on the rigged Libor rate being set by the big banks.
AMERICANS who save for the future, use credit cards or borrow money for tuition, cars and homes deserve assurance that the interest rates on their savings and loans are set in a reliable and honest way.
That’s why the revelation that the British bank Barclays attempted to manipulate the London interbank offered rate, or Libor — one of the benchmark rates used to determine the cost of borrowing around the world — is so disturbing. But the Barclays case isn’t only about misconduct by large financial institutions. It also raises questions about the reliability and accuracy of these key interest rates, which are largely determined by the private sector, without significant government oversight.
Major banks, which often band together when facing government scrutiny, are now turning on one another as an international investigation into the manipulation of interest rates gains momentum.
With billions of dollars and their reputations on the line, financial institutions have been spreading the blame in recent meetings with authorities, according to government and bank officials with knowledge of the matter. While acknowledging their own wrongdoing, institutions are pointing out actions at other banks that they believe are worse — and in some cases, extend to top executives.
For all the details see the excellent coverage at The Guardian. This is just another example of the rot at the heart of capitalism. Here’s pointers to a few more resources.
Other general reading:
Too big to jail: The Size of the Big Banks Is – Literally – Destroying the Rule of Law
Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor
Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels
Are Big Banks Criminal Enterprises?
After Five Years: Report Card on Crisis Capitalism
£13tn hoard hidden from taxman by global elite
And here’s how they get away with it:
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism
The Supreme Court Just Handed Anyone, Including bin Laden or the Chinese Government, Control of Our Democracy
Koch brothers aren’t just buying elections — they’re investing big in anti-science think tanks (video)
Happy reading! Please add links to your own resources in comments.