Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Strong proposals needed to halt another economic crisis

Will US plans to regulate Wall Street be stringent enough to avoid a repeat of last year's crash, asks American Correspondent Jim Dee

Over the course of the last year America has navigated the most turbulent economic waters seen in many generations. Front and centre has been the debate over how best to overhaul the country's arcane healthcare system.

However, as the world has watched the tumultuous healthcare dust-up, a parallel battle is being fought regarding America's banking and financial sectors - specifically regarding the shenanigans of the last decade or so that brought the world's economy to the brink of ruin.

Arguably, there are signs that crisis may be receding. However, questions remain as to whether the cracks at the epicentre of the meltdown - the US financial sector - have been adequately addressed in order to head off future crisis.

Have reformers simply glossed over the structural and systemic problems that pitched the global economy into crisis in the first place? Or have root-and-branch reforms been enacted that will safeguard consumers against a rerun of the 2008 debacle?

In recent weeks, Capitol Hill has seen two bills tabled by prominent Democrats - Representative Barney Frank (a Massachusetts Democrat) and Chris Dodd (a Democrat from Connecticut).

Arguing that the lack of personal consequences for their reckless investment gambling created the recent Wall Street meltdown, Congressman Frank has proposed a new regulatory regime that would mandate governmental interdiction if and when publicly owned firms veered seriously off course.

According to Frank's prescription, CEOs of such firms would be fired and, if the business was too far below the waterline, it would simply be allowed to sink without rescue.

Those deemed responsible would be axed, named and shamed. The prospect of such an inglorious demise would, in theory at least, keep CEOs honest.

Under Frank's proposal, a fund would be created, bankrolled by businesses with more than $10bn in assets, to cushion against big firms failing.

Previously, US taxpayers footed the bill for such bailouts, as in the cases of General Motors and Citigroup.

Frank's 'tough love' would be significantly magnified under new regulations proposed by Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

Senator Dodd also proposes a drastic curbing of the power of the Federal Reserve bank - America's 'Uberbank' - that critics have accused of being asleep at the wheel in the run-up to last year's economic meltdown - and create several new regulatory agencies tasked with policing Wall Street.

A main difference between the Dodd and Frank proposals regards the power of the Federal Reserve Bank. Frank want it's power expanded, Dodd wants its reach curtailed.

According to Frank's plan, the Fed would team with seven other regulatory bodies to form an oversight body that would police financial institutions that have the potential to undermine the banking system's stability.

However, unlike other partners in the oversight system, the Fed would be empowered to perform unscheduled on-site inspections of banks and financial institutions deemed 'too big to fail' and in danger of collapse.

By contrast, Dodd proposes to strip the Fed of much of its power and to create a new over-arching agency to supercede the spaghetti junction of roughly 60 state-by-state and federal agencies that now monitor the financial sector.

According to many economists, the recession is now actually over - small theoretical comfort to the hundreds of thousands still loosing their jobs each month.

In the meantime, armies of lobbyists have been pounding the halls of Congress in order to thwart the enactment of meaningful financial sector reforms.

Chris Dodd and Barney Frank may be dancing on the head of a pin as to the finer points of reform.

But the real question is whether or not a new breed of Wall Street cops will have both the talent and tools to reign-in the excesses and unbridled greed that imperiled so many all around the globe during he last year.

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