By Shah Gilani
No one person is responsible for the credit crisis, the failure of investment banks, the insolvency of commercial banks world-wide, the implosion of the world’s stock markets, or for leading us to the precipice of another great depression.
The truth is there were many.
Fundamental and pragmatic banking regulations, which arose from the devastating financial collapses of the Great Depression, for decades strengthened U.S. banks and capital markets, making them the twin engines of American growth and the envy of the world.
The systematic dismantling of those same regulations by greedy bankers began in earnest in 1980, peaked in 1999, and finally climaxed with an insane Securities and Exchange Commission ruling in April 2004, a final decision that paved the way for the implosion of everything regulation was designed to protect.
Just how did we get here?
Wall Street bankers, their exorbitantly well-paid lobbying army of former congressmen and former regulators, their greatly contributed-to sitting legislators and, most egregiously, the self-righteous and still mega-rich “former” Street executives have systematically eviscerated the muscle and bones from the regulatory bodies charged with protecting us from banks’ self-destructive greed. An inordinately powerful group of executive insiders from the once-deeply respected House of Goldman Sachs (GS) have served as U.S. Treasury secretaries and in innumerable other administrative capacities.
A Reflection on Reform
The Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act of 1980, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, was the first major reform of the U.S. banking system since the Great Depression.
While touted as a boon to consumers, the law was actually a gold mine for bankers. Among other requirements and banker “gifts” the 1980 Act’s provisions:
- Lowered the mandatory reserve requirements banks keep in non-interest bearing accounts at U.S. Federal Reserve banks.
- Established a five-member committee, the Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee, to phase out federal interest rate ceilings on deposit accounts over a six-year period.
- Increased Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) coverage from $40,000 to $100,000.
- Allowed depository institutions, including savings and loans and other thrift institutions, access to the Federal Reserve Discount Window for credit advances.
- And pre-empted state usury laws that limited the rates lenders could charge on residential mortgage loans.
In 1980, in a virtual landslide, Ronald Reagan was elected and grabbed the conservative mantle. A year later, the shock troops of the heralded Reagan Revolution launched their attack and embarked on a massive, systematic de-regulatory campaign. President Reagan’s first treasury secretary, former Merrill Lynch & Co. Chief Executive Officer Donald T. Regan, became chairman of the Depository Institutions Deregulation Committee.
In a burst of deregulatory bravado in 1982, Treasury Secretary Regan ushered through the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act. Key provisions of the Act ultimately coalesced with Treasury Secretary Regan’s protection of the lucrative “brokered deposits” business, in which Merrill was a major player, and paved the way for the future collapse of the savings and loan industry.
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