I ran across this piece in the New York Times last week while I was sitting at my desk eating my sandwich and surfing around the papers and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Headlined “Elders of Wall Street Favor More Regulation” it discussed the financial regulation reforms now stalled in the Senate.
Around the same time, Paul Krugman wrote a short entry in his The Conscience of a Liberal blog.
At this point the odds are that in response to the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression, we will do … nothing.
And while there is plenty of blame to spread around, it’s important not to be too even-handed. The fact is that the Democrat-controlled House has already passed a pretty good reform bill. But in the Senate, well, here’s what the FT reports:
Senate Republicans are resisting a fundamental tenet of the Obama administration’s financial regulatory reforms in another obstacle for the stalled legislative process.
Several aides from both parties involved in reform negotiations told the Financial Times that Republicans had opposed in private a plan to impose tougher capital and liquidity requirements on companies that posed a risk to the financial system.
That’s tantamount to opposing any real reform.
Into the fray step the old guys. Old, white and mostly Republican (I presume).
Put aside for a moment the populist pressure to regulate banking and trading. Ask the elder statesmen of these industries — giants like George Soros, Nicholas F. Brady, John S. Reed, William H. Donaldson and John C. Bogle — where they stand on regulation, and they will bowl you over with their populism.
They certainly don’t think of themselves as angry Main Streeters. They grew quite wealthy in finance, typically making their fortunes in the ’70s and ’80s when banks and securities firms were considerably more regulated. And now, parting company with the current chieftains, they want more rules, Louis Uchitelle writes in The New York Times.
While the younger generation, very visibly led by Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of Goldman Sachs, lobbies Congress against such regulation, their spiritual elders support the reform proposed by Paul A. Volcker and, surprisingly, even more restrictions. “I am a believer that the system has gone badly awry and needs massive reform,” said Mr. Bogle, the 80-year-old founder and for many years chief executive of the Vanguard Group, the huge mutual fund company.
Mr. Volcker, 82, signed up the support of nearly a dozen peers whose average age is north of 70 and whose pedigrees on Wall Street and in banking are impeccable. But while Mr. Volcker focuses on a rule that would henceforth prohibit a bank that takes deposits from also buying and selling securities for its own account — risking losses in the process — most of his prominent supporters see that as a starting point in a broader return to regulation. And most do not hesitate to speak up in interviews with The New York Times.
A younger elder, John Reed (he’s only 71) even talks about bringing back Glass-Steagall
Nor does it bother John S. Reed, a former Citigroup co-chairman, who played a role in building Citi into a powerhouse that mingled commercial banking and all sorts of trading activities. That mix helped to precipitate the current credit crisis, requiring a costly federal bailout of Citigroup, among others, in 2008.
Mr. Reed, now 71, was long gone by then, and from retirement he has second thoughts. He even thinks about resurrecting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prevented banks from engaging in any sort of trading activity involving stocks and bonds. (It was revoked in 1999, partly at the behest of Citigroup, then run by Sanford I. Weill.)
So going back to Krugman’s comments,
You might think that the GOP would pay a political price for this. But it already has its strategy: insist that black is white.
The right-wing group “Committee for Truth In Politics” seems to have taken the advice of the postmodernist Frank Luntz, and cast new regulations on Wall Street, which Wall Street is furiously attempting to kill, as a giant favor to Wall Street.
And they’ll probably get away with it.
Unless someone starts listening to the old guys.