Wall Street's dot-com scapegoat - Buddy, can you spare a paradigm?

The news that Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone has been convicted of interfering with a federal investigation in December 2000 is supposed to impress us all with the hard line that US investigators are now taking on white collar crime

Frank Quattrone's extraordinarily lucrative career -- at the height of the dot-com boom as an investment banker at Credit Suisse First Boston he earned $120m (£67.1m) -- has come to an uncomfortable end.

He faces further civil charges in a separate legal action but his current conviction means that he is now barred from working in the securities industry for ten years. His conviction at the re-trial had added drama because it was widely assumed that he would fare even better second time around and walk away from court a free man, instead of facing up to two years in prison. The Financial Times's Lex column today points out that the firm with which he is most associated, Credit Suisse First Boston, has been selected to help out with Google's IPO, concluding that "CSFB appears to have emerged from the wreckage chastened, but with its franchise intact".

To anyone who was in Silicon Valley around at the time, the huffing and puffing and moralising surrounding Quattrone's conviction is enormously entertaining. Anyone who was there in the run-up to 2000 knows that the entire securities industry in the United States bears a heavy responsibility for the massive inflation in the value of Internet stocks and their subsequent collapse, which wiped an estimated $3tn off the value of the global economy at a stroke. Of course, the big losers here were the small investors and anybody with a pension, rather than the financial institutions involved, but that's the way big money plays.

The media also did its bit. We couldn't get enough of the dot-com story. I certainly released a little helium into the balloon as an editor at the Internet business magazine The Industry Standard, but we were not alone. Even the sensible chaps at the Financial Times briefly, and rather tragically, dubbed themselves the newspaper of the e-economy, with all the tragic futility of a middle-aged accountant sporting a Hoxton fin. The sober business journal Fortune resisted the calls of the dot-com sirens for a long time, but when it finally cracked, it went the whole hog. Its coverage became so focused on the Internet and technology stocks that at one meeting an editor could be heard asking plaintively for any story -- any story at all -- that wasn't about the Internet.

The greed of individual investors also played its part. I remember being lectured at the time by a very smart friend who patiently explained to me that I was a fool for not day-trading stocks, as I simply "could not lose".

So did the avarice of established sober businesses, who threw financial caution to the winds, abandoned all cost controls, believed in the snake oil of the new paradigm, and threw away millions and millions of dollars of their investors' money. Time Warner AOL, anyone?

The entrepreneurs also did their bit -- that is, those who were more interested in getting rich quick than in taking the time to build great companies that offered real value to real people.

In fact, there is far too much shame and blame to go around -- which is why we need that comforting headline about Mr Quattrone.

The pin-stripe world's reason for existing is to allocate capital to ideas - from a new factory building widgets to the latest album from Britney Spears. Got a great idea? Then there's a suit with a chequebook you should meet.

The financial establishment goes to extraordinary lengths -- and spends millions on advertising -- to convince the rest of the business world and the general public that it assigns capital to ideas with foresight, wisdom, probity, and the best interests of everyone concerned front and centre.

This is the Big Lie of the banking world.

The reality is that during the dot-com boom Wall Street bankers slung money about like a crazed porn star on coke.

Thousands of bad companies got money they didn't need to do things that didn't matter. (Some of it actually stuck, and we got a few decent companies out of it: Amazon, e-Bay, Google. That's about a trillion dollars each, which seems like an awful lot of money for three Internet success stories.)

After this fantastic display of incompetence and failure, what happens?

Wall Street rings its hands, the Federal Government promises that it must never happen again, and there are a couple of show trials to ensure that a scapegoat banker does two years of soft time. In other words -- absolutely nothing happens.

Wall Street is shocked, shocked, to discover that there is gambling in its casino. Or as Lex puts it, with extraordinary naivety, a business like Credit Suisse First Boston emerges, "with its franchise intact".

That's the point of the whole Wall Street franchise. It always emerges intact. Give it another generation, and we, the investing public, will have grown some more wool, and the technology investment bankers will be ready to give us all another fleecing. It's not hard to spot: just look for someone selling a new paradigm.