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Buddy, Can You Spare a Billion?
Shelby's notion was a curiosity for the senators, who don't often spend a lot of time worrying about moral hazards. No fewer than five other senators invoked the phrase. "I think the moral hazard was minimized," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, one of the witnesses, reassured the senators.
No moral hazard, however, would interfere with the lawmakers' compassion for the beleaguered Schwartz and his fellow witness, J.P. Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, who had given a combined $260,000 in political contributions in recent years -- a small part of the $1.7 million their co-workers contributed in this election cycle alone. That's a sizable handout -- but a good investment compared with the $30 billion federal hand-up.
"On behalf of all of us here on this dais, our sympathies go out to your employees," Dodd told Schwartz after his opening statement. "There's no adequate way we can express our sorrow to them for what happened. Obviously, shareholders, same sort of feelings, but obviously the employees particularly. It's a particularly hard blow."
Of course, some might consider $30 billion an adequate expression of sympathy, but Dodd was apologetic as he gently probed Schwartz. "You both will have forgotten more in the next 10 minutes than I'll ever probably understand about all of this," he told the witnesses, but didn't the irregular trading at Bear Stearns mean than "more than just rumors" were behind Bear Stearns's demise?
"You could never get facts out as fast as the rumors," Schwartz explained. "It looked like there were people that wanted to induce panic."
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) reminded Schwartz that two of the firm's funds went bankrupt in 2007. "It caused concern, not only here but on Wall Street," the senator said. "Did that dramatically alter your behavior?"
Evidently not. "I'm not sure I understand the question," Schwartz answered.