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May 20, 2013
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May 13, 2013
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May 10, 2013
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May 8, 2013
Peter Ford: Why China is welcoming both Israel's Netanyahu and Palestinians' Abbas
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May 3, 2013
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April 29, 2013
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April 26, 2013
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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
Aug 6, 2012 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5772
Another convert to the cause
Now it's Sanford Weill, a name from the inglorious past, the old wheeler-dealer, empire builder and banker extraordinaire, who's seen the light.
Mr. Weill showed up in the news the other day to confess his sins, and turn his back on the very policies that let him engineer the largest bank merger in recent American history. Now he's done a 180-degree.
Banks have gotten too big, he says. (Now he tells us.) This after he put together the biggest bank of them all -- Citigroup Inc. -- back in 1998. But that was before his prize creation hit a fiscal wall. And the wizard was turned into a goat, one more former immortal revealed as just another hotshot who got in over his head.
Small, he's now discovered, really is beautiful.
In the end, which came as surely as bust follows boom and downfall hubris, Mr. Weill's mega-bank was obliged to take a $45 billion bailout to survive. (Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.)
Now, with the zeal of the new convert, he's joined the growing choir demanding that investment and commercial banking be separated, so future Sandy Weills can never again imperil the country's -- and the world's -- financial stability.
That's such a good idea Congress made it a law -- in 1933. That was back when the dangers posed by banks-cum-investment houses were still clear as a great depression -- the Great Depression -- engulfed the country.
But time passes, memory fades, and the pride and folly of man return. New, cocksure leaders innocent of history arise and explain that such precautions are no longer necessary, and the rules can be safely relaxed -- indeed, abolished. And the old games played again. Let the good times roll!
So the Depression Era law that kept bankers from speculating with their depositors' money was dismantled. It was called Glass-Steagall after its congressional sponsors, whose names had been forgotten over the years. So had their wisdom.
Financial masterminds like Bill Clinton and Phil Gramm explained that Glass-Steagall had become as antiquated and unwieldy as its name. It wasn't needed any more. It stood in the way of progress. It wouldn't be missed, except maybe by a few fuddy-duddies who still remembered why it had been passed in the first place.
Such warnings could be dismissed easily enough. There was money to be made, or at least gambled away. So a bipartisan coalition did away with the last vestige of Glass-Steagall, which had been crumbling for decades anyway. Why hold on to that remnant of the old order? Who could oppose such a progressive idea? The times weren't just a-changing, they had changed. And the law changed with them. The rush to misjudgment was on.
Even today, there are those who still defend that decision, Bill Clinton prominent among them. (What, admit a mistake?) But the ranks of those who were once enthusiastic about doing away with Glass-Steagall's firewall grow smaller and smaller as it becomes harder and harder to deny that repealing it was a monumental mistake. Sandy Weill is only the latest to join the ranks of those who want to restore the old wall.
But nothing is as simple as it ought to be. Simply resurrecting Glass-Steagall in its original form won't be easy; it may not even be possible. Not after all those who say they're for reviving it in principle find a way to "improve" it in practice -- beyond all recognition.
Consider how the simple old Volcker Rule, which had the same aim as Glass-Steagall, has metamorphosed into the mysterious new Dodd-Frank monstrosity. Its 828 pages of regulations are so vague and complicated, no one can be sure what all it permits or forbids. The myriad of new regulations it authorizes haven't even been written yet.
It has that much in common with Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, which may not prove very affordable or even understandable. Remember when Nancy Pelosi, the happily former speaker of the House, told us we'd have to pass it to find out what was in it? Two years later, that day has yet to arrive, and may never. The details, which is always where the devil is, are still being worked out.
By all means, restore Glass-Steagall, but, please, not with revisions, exemptions, waivers and other such "improvements." Just re-enact the original. Accept no substitutes. Rebuild the old wall between old-fashioned, commercial banking and high-stakes speculation, And this time let it stand.
Heal the breaches in the old wall -- don't open still more, till it has all the consistency of Swiss cheese, with enough holes in it to drive a good-sized recession, even another Great Recession, right through it. Again.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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