From Common Dreams: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/28-3
New York Times columnists Protess and Scott report that Barclays Bank is paying some US$450 million to regulators in the US and UK to “resolve accusations” surrounding its manipulation of a key interest rate, the London Inter-Bank Offer Rate (Libor), during the first years of the ongoing global financial crisis. According to the article, the Libor rate is used as a benchmark rate to price some US$350 trillion in financial products worldwide each year, from credit cards to derivatives and student loans.
The Financial Times reports that the investigation now spans 12 regulators—from the US to Europe and Japan—and 20 banks, including the multinational giants JP Morgan, Citigroup, Bank of America, UBS and Deutsche Bank. The general idea is that the big banks—so far only Barclays has admitted wrongdoing—misreported the rates at which they borrowed from other banks, influencing the LIBOR rate so as to profit the banks. Barclays has also admitted to allowing consultations between various bank departments, and between itself and other banks, before reporting its rates to Libor, an illicit practice.
In most accounts, blame for such unsavory practices are spread around from bank managers and employees seeking higher profits and lower losses, to regulators who were asleep at the wheel, to the secretive and opaque process by which the Libor rate is set. Yet, behind the regulators and the greedy bankers, lies the ‘m’ word that no one dares utter in the business presses—monopoly. The global financial system is increasingly run by a few big firms operating in a highly uncompetitive market place and wielding enormous power, often behind a veil of secrecy, (intentional) regulatory blindness, and technical complexity.
As any introductory economic textbook shows, imperfectly competitive marketplaces (e.g. monopoly, monopsony, oligopoly and oligopsony) are defined by the ability of a few firms, or only one firm, to manipulate prices and other exchange terms. As markets concentrate, and free competition is replaced by collusion and superprofits, firms gain the market power to influence market rules and prices in their own interest. Indeed, any college freshman in an traditional economics department could foresee that growing concentration in global credit markets would result in price distortions, to the detriment of consumers and other less powerful actors. And, some might also be able to cite a few examples of the manner in which market power confers political power, another dangerous dimension of monopolistic market structures frequently noted in the Marxist tradition, among others (think, say, of Goldman Sach’s ability to staff the US Treasury and Federal Reserve).