About 70 students at Ocean City High School had a well-dressed guest Friday: Walter Jay Clayton, chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the federal agency that seeks to make capital markets fair and efficient.

Clayton, who holds engineering and law degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (grew up in Wallingford and met his wife at Strath Haven High), has summered at Ocean City all his life. When he dropped by with his wife, Gretchen Butler Clayton, he said people all over the country tell him they wish they’d started investing earlier. Clayton sees it as part of his job to make it easier for people to invest in part because “we have become increasingly responsible for our own retirements.”

Clayton, who spent years representing Wall Street clients that he now polices, said he wants to teach a class in fraud after heading the SEC. Asked if any of his listeners had heard of the big Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff, about a third of the students raised their hands. Clayton described how Madoff had tried to make his fund seem exclusive so he could trick people into investing. Madoff also used money from new investors to pay existing ones.

“Speculation makes prices go up,” Clayton went on to say. "Market crashes [happen] when prices - of a home, a stock - don’t reflect reality. People wake up one day and say ‘oh I’m not sure that price is right I want to get out.’ ... They withdraw their capital until everyone is confident the prices are right.

“That happened with tulips in Holland and dot com stocks in 1999 and houses in 2008. My job is to try to make sure the regulation of the market is such that that kind of inflated level doesn’t happen.. I have to make sure people get good information. ... History has a way of repeating itself. We are trying darn hard to make sure it doesn’t.”