Welcome to your nightmare, Wall Street.
For years and years you've been able to do pretty much whatever you wanted. Paid yourselves as much as you wanted, created esoteric products, pushed around regulators, bought politicians, took enormous risks -- risks far bigger than your companies could have ever hoped to cover by themselves.
And now you've done something incredible. You've managed to tarnish -- to bring into question, even -- the primacy and superiority of free market capitalism. That takes a special kind of stupid. It takes really smart stupid. It takes Harvard stupid.
But you, you managed to do it. You did it by creating a system that was a complete bastardization of capitalism. The free market is pretty good at ensuring that successes are rewarded and failures are penalized. It fails when stupid doesn't come with penalties.
Harvard stupid comes from thinking that you're smarter than everyone without recognizing that you still might not be smart enough to control the evil your creations threaten to unleash. The genius financial products that kept you eyes-deep in Cristal and vacation homes nearly caused the global financial system to seize up. Do you think that the titans from the University of Maine could bring the free market, the global economy to its knees? I sure don't, if for nothing else because they don't come from the right families.
I'm not quite sure that the "let 'em fail" crowd realizes just how spectacularly you almost succeeded at failing. And I do mean you. Yes, mortgage banks everywhere participated, and yes, a whole lot of people bought houses that a few seconds on a $3 calculator would have told them they could not afford. But you know and I know that it all started because your yawning maws would take in whatever garbage-quality credit risks you could find because you could feed them into the machine and they'd come out smelling of rosewater on the other side -- part of a AAA-rated tranche of loans for you to sell, speculate in, or re-securitize. You got your sales commissions, your fat bonuses, your skyrocketing share prices.
Here's what else you got: thousands of families losing their homes. The devastation in some parts of the country is so bad that it's transcended the financial on into the ecological. Click on this, if you dare.
So here's the thing. It seems ever more likely that the U.S. taxpayer is going to step in and clean up the mess that your chase for yield created. The Senate has passed a bill, and now comes a revote in the House of Representatives.
If they pass the bill and decide to put your mess on the Underhill tab, we, the Underhills, own you. (Yes, that was a Fletch reference.)
Today you might do a little dance and thank the Almighty that the cavalry is on the way. But recognize that this cavalry isn't some sovereign wealth fund from Norway or Abu Dhabi. You can't roll out some statistical arbitrage chop socky and expect us to believe you. We don't. Further, we're not at all pleased that you nearly managed to ruin capitalism for the rest of us.
And we have folks in our midst who are capable of reading financial statements. Remember those big fat bonuses you got last year for turning toxic paper into AAA-rated inverse IO Strips which you dumped on some benighted bank somewhere (who really ought to have known better)? If your bonuses come within an order of magnitude of where they were last year, I'm pretty sure there will, in fact, be bloodthirsty mobs.
By the time they're done, Wall Street will look like it has been hit with a wholly unlikely combination of calamities including hurricanes, staph infections, choking, golf ball-sized hail, dropsy, carpal tunnel syndrome, homeowners' association meetings, and Mongol invasion. It's the kind of violent force of nature you're pretty sure you'd rather have pointing away from you.
Congress knows it, too. They would like nothing more than an excuse to frogmarch a few of you down to Washington for any perceived inability on your part to get That Which We Are Coming From.
The gigantic paydays of the past aren't coming back anytime soon. Truth be told, you were never worth that kind of money anyway. Sorry, Wall Street. Your Masters of the Universe privileges have been revoked. Please stand by; your new assignments will arrive shortly.
Bill Mann owns some companies but hasn't really figured out how to work them into this article. Maybe that's for the best. Anyway, he's pretty sure that whoever keeps running into his mailbox must have learned how to drive on Wall Street. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.