Breakout

Glass-Steagall II: If It’s Not Fixed, Break It

Jeff Macke
Breakout

Mega-banks have a grotesque amount of control over the financial system and no real control over themselves. As evidenced by the mortgage meltdown, the London Whale and far too many near-crisis events to count, America and indeed the entire world would be well-served by the enforcement of coherent and practicable regulations.

Which is why the cynical idiocy of Glass-Steagall II as it's being called is so disheartening. Proposed by a bipartisan group of four Senators including Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican John McCain the new Glass-Steagall would force a separation of the handling of deposits and trading operations.

The idea is that such a provision would prevent the type of "risky trading" that precipitated the housing meltdown. It's a nice idea and tremendously noble goal. The fact that nothing in the proposed bill would actually prevent another banking crisis isn't the biggest problem with the bill.

The real issue is that reinstating Glass-Steagall would give the illusion of safety where none exists. Trading desks don't need to collect deposits to create derivatives. Financial institutions don't rely on trading desks to make their money. Blowing up the banking system into little bits is emotionally satisfying but wouldn't really do anything to make Americans safe from another meltdown.

Proponents of the bill are either naive or unspeakably cynical and the distinction doesn't really matter for the purposes of this conversation.

The Reformed Broker Josh Brown regards another bank-related meltdown as inevitable. The banks are far larger than they were in 2006 and 2007 and we as a nation have demonstrated very little in the way of learning from the last crisis. No significant laws have been passed. For that matter the country hasn't even entirely cut off the emergency stimulus packages intended as a band-aid in 2009.

The most generous interpretation of the bill is that its sponsor regard it as a nice start. Brown summarizes the more cynical take in the attached video.

"When a politician says something that's anti-banking it's like kissing a baby," says Brown. "It's a quick and dirty shortcut to make a populist statement. The reality is they're all funded by banks so it doesn't matter what they say in public."

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