An insider’s view, 27 years in the enforcement division of the SEC.
Much of the problem arose from decades of deregulation dating back to the beginning of the Reagan administration. Elected deregulators appointed their own kind to head regulatory agencies and they, in turn, removed career regulators from management positions and replaced them with appointees who had worked in or represented the regulated industries. These new managers and, in many cases,the people they recruited and promoted, advanced or adhered to a regulatory scheme that, at least with respect to the most important issues, advanced the interests of regulated.
…the industry “captured” the regulators and the regulatory system.
But not in the passive sense that true regulators over time came to identify too closely with the interests of the regulated. This is not a case of financial regulators falling victim to the Stockholm syndrome. The vast majority of capture resulted from intentional efforts by the finance industry to advance their narrow interests at all costs and defeat meaningful regulation.
Unfortunately, we live in a country that can be bought from the top down and the finance industry exploited the situation very successfully. But do not blame the regulators. Career regulators are as much the victims of these events as the public’s economic welfare.
As Frank Rich wrote in the NYTimes,
“What disturbs Americans of all ideological persuasions is the fear that almost everything, not just government, is fixed or manipulated by some powerful hidden hand, from commercial transactions as trivial as the sales of prime concert tickets to cultural forces as pervasive as the news media.”