Robert Reich: Obama should call for return of Glass-Steagall

The Democrats (like Bill Clinton and the Obama economic team) have their hands all over the repeal of Glass-Steagall (i.e., they helped make it happen) so it would be embarrassing and probably difficult. Still, it’s time to do the right thing.

What better way for Obama to distinguish himself from Romney than to condemn Wall Street’s antics since the bailout, and call for real reform?

Economically it would be smart for Obama to go after the Street right now because the Street’s lobbying muscle has reduced the Dodd-Frank financial reform law to a pale reflection of its former self. Dodd-Frank is rife with so many loopholes and exemptions that the largest Wall Street banks – larger by far then they were before the bailout – are back to many of their old tricks.

It’s impossible to know, for example, the exposure of the Street to European banks in danger of going under. To stay afloat, Europe’s banks will be forced to sell mountains of assets – among them, derivatives originating on the Street – and may have to reneg on or delay some repayments on loans from Wall Street banks.

From Wikipedia:

The repeal of provisions of the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act effectively removed the separation that previously existed between investment banking which issued securities and commercial banks which accepted deposits. The deregulation also removed conflict of interest prohibitions between investment bankers serving as officers of commercial banks.

More from HuffPost:

The footage of him speaking on the Senate floor has become something of a cult flick for the particularly wonky progressive. The date was November 4, 1999. Senator Byron Dorgan, in a patterned red tie, sharp dark suit and hair with slightly more color than it has today, was captured only by the cameras of CSPAN2.

“I want to sound a warning call today about this legislation,” he declared, swaying ever so slightly right, then left, occasionally punching the air in front of him with a slightly closed fist. “I think this legislation is just fundamentally terrible.”

Ten years later, Dorgan has been vindicated. His warning that banks would become “too big to fail” has proven basically true in the wake of the current financial crisis. He seems eerily prescient for claiming then that Congress would “look back ten years time and say we should not have done this.” But he wasn’t entirely alone. Sens. Barbara Boxer, Barbara Mikulski, Richard Shelby, Tom Harkin and Richard Bryan also cast nay votes.

As did Sen. Russ Feingold, who, in a statement from his office, recalled that “Gramm-Leach-Bliley was just one of several bad policies that helped lead to the credit market crisis and the severe recession it helped cause.”

The late Sen. Paul Wellstone also opposed the bill, warning at the time that Congress was “about to repeal the economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.”


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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