Saturday, September 04, 2010

Hold experts accountable

One of the problems of the family court is the use of experts who are not accountable for their bad opinions. As the WSJ reports, such thinking contributed to the 2008 financial crisis:
The government's anointed judges of credit risk -— S&P, Moody's and Fitch -— had handed out triple-A ratings to thousands of bundles of home loans that increasingly were going unpaid. ...

To avoid legal liability, the Big Three have consistently emphasized that their ratings are merely opinions, akin to the ones on this page, and not "expert" judgments like those rendered by accountants or attorneys. In practice, this meant that while mortgage fraud skyrocketed during the housing boom, the credit-raters weren't checking any individual mortgages in the pools they were rating. Mr. Kroll sums up their business model: "Pay me a lot of money for an opinion, but don't hold me accountable if I'm wrong."
The article is about a tough-guy private detective who is taking on those rating agencies. Apparently nothing scares him except the family court:
'I want to go where there's a mess," says Jules Kroll, founder of the corporate detective agency that bears his name. The man who became famous tracking down the ill-gotten wealth of deposed dictators has embarked on a new mission ...

Mr. Kroll reports today that every one of his adversaries from the Queens Democratic machine of that era wound up in prison, with one exception. Donald Manes, the Queens borough president, was facing a kickback scandal in 1986 when he killed himself with a kitchen knife to the heart.

In all the years managing his investigations firm (he sold it in 2004 and left in 2008), Mr. Kroll reports that he was only personally threatened twice, by people who were "mentally disturbed." He believes the incidents had nothing to do with his line of work. He says that there are "far more dangerous" ways to earn a living, such as "in all seriousness ... family law practices. They're brutal. It's the life of a family. It's the break-up of a marriage, the custody of a child."
Family court is so brutal because we have laws that encourage conflict, and so-called experts who are not accountable. Most of the problems could be eliminated by just getting rid of those experts and those conflict-creating laws.

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