Friday, July 09, 2010

Markopolos' Paradoxical View on Regulation

I just completed Harry Markopolos' financial thriller No One Would Listen (buy at The book tells the story of an unsuccessful whistleblower in the Bernie Madoff fraud case. The book details the negative experience the author had trying to report one of the largest frauds in history to the SEC. As the SEC failed to listen, the Ponzi scheme played out until investors lost $65 billion.

The book provides an intriguing first hand look at the difficulties faced by people trying to work within the system to prevent fraud. Unfortunately, the solutions offered in the epilogue fall short and fail to provide us with a useful paradigm for reform.

Paradoxically, Markopolis ends his book on the systematic failures of regulation with a call for even more regulation. Markopolis's call for more regulation is even more bizarre as Markopolis himself points to the reason why regulation fails [pg. 269]

"Security Laws [regulations] are outdated almost as soon as they go into effect, because new financial instruments are created to skirt these laws [regulations]."

Regulations tend to become obstacles for honest companies. Meanwhile, conniving companies study the weaknesses in regulations and form products specifically to skirt the regulations. Such products generate income, but don't generate value.

In the same paragraph, Markopolos notes:

"The purpose of laws is to deine the lowest form of acceptable behavior between people, but ethics are the higher standard that the SEC security lawyers have successfully ignored.

So, what we need are higher ethics.

As to the investigation of fraud, the best approach is to develop investigatory programs that sees if companies are adhering to ethical standards, then to vigorously pursue investigation of fraud when companies are caught lying.

As was pointed out time and time again in Markopolos's investigation, the Madoff ponzi scheme had been breaking laws and lying to clients for at least 18 years.

When there is no effective investigation or enforcement of existing regulations, adding new regulations simply add to the regulatory burden with no benefits to the people.

Markopolos' book is a good read, but does not provide any real solutions to the ethical problems facing Wall Street. He makes a strong case that there should be greater rewards for whistleblowers, but completely fails to address the problem of fraudulent whistleblowing.

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