Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

Raj Rajaratnam picture

A jury has declared the billionaire founder of a New York hedge fund guilty of insider trading.

Raj Rajaratnam, who ran the Galleon Group, was convicted on all 14 counts of conspiracy and fraud.

That's the best news savers will get all day.

Cynics might shrug and say "So what?" The stock and bond markets have always been tilted in favor of the rich and powerful. They just happened to catch this one unlucky guy.

But I'll tell you why it matters that the federal government succeeded in prosecuting the biggest inside trading case in years.

It used to be savers who didn't trust Wall Street could simply sit on the sidelines and not invest in the equity markets.

Corporate pensions and stashing a modest amount in certificates of deposit paying an interest rate of 4% to 6% a year insured most Americans could raise their kids and enjoy a comfortable retirement.

No more.

Corporate pensions are going away, being replaced by do-it-yourself retirement plans like a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account.

At the same time the Federal Reserve has driven interest rates to record lows with the openly stated goal of forcing us to take our money out of bank deposits and put it in stocks and bonds.

No one can build the kind of nest egg they need to help their children through college and generate a modest retirement income without investing in stocks and bonds.

The fix is in. We've got to be in the markets.

Guys like Rajaratnam are out to scam the market by trading stocks based on information he obtained through a network of paid corporate tipsters, one of which actually slept with top execs to obtain the access she needed.

Every extra dollar he made came from investors like us. We were his patsies.

I'm not naïve.

I don't think Rajaratnam's conviction will stop insider trading even if the judge sentences him to the maximum 25 years in prison. Greed is a powerful force.

But if it makes other wealthy hedge fund managers and investors a little less willing to cheat, that's good for us.

And what about the federal government?

Washington is meekly accepting the demise of corporate pensions while distorting the economy in such a way that we have practically no choice but to risk some of our hard-earned savings with Wall Street.

The least it can do is devote a few lawyers to keeping the game fair for all the players. Even Vegas does that.

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