As big Wall Street firms topple like dominoes, there is plenty of blame to go around.
Failure this broad and deep takes a village, and regulators, lawyers, compensation consultants, auditors, executives, shareholders, and the press all played a part. But the people who are most responsible for the massive meltdowns of these institutions are the boards of directors.
Their sole responsibility is to act as fiduciaries for the shareholders in managing risk. They not only failed to perform this task but indeed, in their approval of outrageous pay plans with perverse incentives, they all but guaranteed the current disaster.
I am a capitalist. I love it when executives earn boatloads of money. But it infuriates me when they get it without earning it.
If the executives’ compensation is tied to the volume of business rather than the quality of business, we should expect dealmakers to be more attentive to the number of transactions than the value they create. This is the basis for much of the sub-prime mess, whose collateral damage is taking down the biggest firms on Wall Street.