by Linda Beale
A Year and Counting: re-regulation of Wall Street
On Monday night, I participated in a symposium on the Financial Crisis: One Year Later, sponsored by the Center for the Study of Citizenship and others. With me were Larry Ingrassia, Business Editor of the New York Times, and Chip Dickson, CFO of W2Freedom, a private equity fund that purchases community banks. We talked about the causes and potential solutions to the financial crisis and the Great Recession that it had spawned. Much of our focus was on the way financial institutions had grown “too big to fail”, creating a “casino mentality” that assumed that the government would come to the rescue if needed, thus socializing losses while privatizing gains.
The whole point of society is to moderate and channel wild animal impulses into productive forms. In keeping with that purpose, we as a civilization once saw fit to impose on high finance a series of regulatory restrictions and frameworks for oversight so as to moderate and channel the risk-taking behaviors of financiers.
Then we as a civilization saw fit to remove those restrictions and oversight. The result was as foregone, and as predictable, as if we were stalling an aircraft and letting gravity take over.
I kicked off the discussion session of the symposium with the following question:
It’s been a year now since we were hit with a financial system tsunami, and recognized that we had let banks get “too big to fail” and speculation in derivatives explode. Yet here we are, one year later—we’ve actually encouraged banks to grow larger; we have not yet enacted any regulation of derivatives; we have not yet enacted any tighter regulation of hedge funds and private equity funds or the “shadow banking” system generally, we have not yet formed a consumer financial protection agency—in fact, we’ve done essentially nothing to change the conditions that apply. What does this mean, in terms of the stability of the financial system?
I’m not sure that there is a satisfactory answer to that question. Because it suggests that our political processes are now so beholden to the corrupting influence of the financial behemoths that we will not be able to find the will to rein them in. See, e.g., Robert Reich, so much happening in D.C., so little to show for it, Salon.com (Oct. 9, 2009) (lamenting the fact that “Congress is overwhelmed with corporate and Wall Street lobbyists”).
(cross posted from ataxingmatter 10/09/2009)
Update: Barney Frank and the SEC on derivatives, Naked Capitalism