Search

 

 

Entries in Glass-Steagall (7)

Tuesday
Aug152017

Transcript of my Speech in Tokyo on global monetary policy, big banks & geo-politics in the Trump era

The following is the transcript from my speech: Shifting US-Japan Geo-Politics, Banking Landscape and Financial Regulations in the Trump Era. It was given on July 11, 2017 at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo, Japan:

 

President Trump has talked a lot about America First. Over the last 6 months, we have seen that America First means that the United States could also be excluded from the rest of the world’s trade policy. For instance, Japan and the European Commission (EC) have recently agreed to an economic partnership agreement (EPA), which could be the largest trade agreement ever. This is an example of the United States being excluded from trade alliances. The new climate in the United States has created opportunities for other countries like Japan.

The shift toward America First and isolationism is not wholly because of President Trump. It is the result of a trend that started approximately 10 years ago. It has much to do with the lack of regulation in the US banking system.

Prior to 1999, the United States regulated banks under the Glass-Steagall Act. This Act required that banks separate their commercial banking operations from their trading, speculation, and securities businesses. That act was repealed in 1999, and the repeal has had a number of consequences.

For one thing, the repeal led to a series of corporate scandals in the United States just a few years later. It also led to the creation of the “Too Big to Fail” concept. It allowed Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Bank of America to become conglomerate banks. It led each bank to increase the risks they hold, and it increased the interdependency of banks throughout the world.

That increased risk and interdependency eventually resulted in the global financial crisis. And yet banks still hold many of the same risky investments they had prior to the crisis, and are still interdependent.

Many in the United States have been talking about reintroducing the Glass-Steagall Act in order to mitigate that risk and interdependency. When President Trump ran for office, he discussed this. It was in the Republican platform as well. 

However, since the election, two interesting things have happened. President Trump gave an interview in which he said he still needed to think about Glass-Steagall. Since then, he has not talked much about it. Meanwhile, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has said that President Trump does not intend to bring back the old Glass-Steagall Act, but is rather considering a “21st century Glass-Steagall” that would merely require banks to set aside money for emergencies related to risky investments rather than actually restructure. 

I would like to talk more in detail about some of the risks that banks now face in order to highlight why the discussion about regulations like Glass-Steagall is so important.

One emerging risk today is corporate defaults. Thanks to quantitative easing, there is a lot of cheap money available in the market right now. According to S&P Global Ratings, as a result of all the cheap money, corporate debt is expected to climb from $51 trillion today to $75 trillion by 2020. At the same time, the global speculative-grade default rate is now 4.2 percent. This is the highest level since 2009, which was the worst year of the financial crisis. A total of 162 companies defaulted in 2016. This is the second time we have seen annual defaults above 100 since 2009. This has a large impact. When companies default, jobs suffer, research and development suffers, and the market suffers. It reduces confidence, which can catalyze a crisis.

Even with the level of risk we are seeing around corporate defaults today, central banks continue to buy assets, to the tune of $200 billion per month. Will this pace slow in the future? Many are now talking about whether the central banks will change their policies on quantitative easing. The Federal Reserve has been slowly raising interest rates. On the other hand, the Bank of Japan has announced that it will begin an ‘unlimited’ Japanese Government bond buying program.  

One issue surrounding quantitative easing is that it is honestly very difficult to tell what the true effect of this policy is. There is no guarantee that when a central bank purchases bonds that it will result in more long-term hires or higher wages, for example. We cannot look at inflation or deflation to see how quantitative easing has impacted the market, because the money from quantitative easing doesn’t go to consumers. It goes to banks and financial speculators. We cannot be certain that any of the money has gone toward jobs or infrastructure. No regulatory requirement even attempted to guarantee that. 

That said, there are some who feel that quantitative easing has been successful in revitalizing our economies. In June, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said in a speech, “Would I say there will never, ever be another financial crisis? You know probably that would be going too far, but I do think we are much safer, and I hope that it will not be in our lifetimes and I don’t believe it will be.”

This remark echoes a similar comment made by former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke in 2007 just before the financial crisis. Partly because of that, it is really difficult to accept what she is saying. For instance, the Federal Reserve subjected a number of banks to stress tests this year, and 34 banks passed. However, those tests don’t look at massive corporate defaults. They don’t look at interdependency. There are risks they don’t consider.

The risks faced by banks in the United States today are greater than even before the financial crisis. The amount of assets that the big six banks hold is about 70% to 80% larger than it was prior to 2008. The amount of deposits they hold is about 40% higher. For these reasons, I think we need to be really careful about the rate at which defaults are increasing, how stocks are supported by share buybacks, and other risks fed by artificial, or conjured money.

Central banks around the world are now pursuing a coordinated zero percent money policy and increasing their assets. The big three central banks in the United States, Europe and Japan now hold assets equivalent to about 17% of global GDP. If this money was liquidated into the real economy instead, it would have a huge positive impact. 

In recent years, central banks have used quantitative easing to inject more liquidity ostensibly into the economy. However, as I mentioned, that liquidity hasn’t necessarily reached the real economy. Quantitative easing has failed to produce real sustainable growth. There have been very low increases in wages throughout the world. For many people, even though their country’s economy may be considered stable by generic measures mostly touted by central banks and governments, their personal economies are instable.

One outcome of that is that people are starting to question the ability of their governments to understand the economy. When that happens, people tend to vote out whoever is in power. This is one of the things that I think contributed to Trump’s victory in the United States. In turn, the economic situation globally has affected political decisions domestically, and those decisions are affecting our international alliances.

The shift in our policies toward international alliances might again have an impact on the global economy. It’s a circle. President Trump seems to be shying away from multilateral agreements and toward more isolationist ideas. The last time the United States did that was in the 1920s. In fact, isolationist policies were one of the reasons there was such a speculative mood in the United States in the 1920s, and that speculation led to the financial crash of 1929.

It looks like, for the time being, the United States will continue to act in a more isolationist manner. That is good and bad. It is bad from the standpoint of general global connectedness. It is good for other countries, including Japan. It gives other countries the opportunity to take on a stronger role in the international community. Japan is already moving to do that, as we can see with the Japan-EU EPA.

Ever since President Trump came into office, alliances excluding the United States have been completed much more rapidly. These alliances were already being planned and executed before he came into office, mostly since the financial crisis to be sure and apprehension about the current dollar-based monetary system, but he seems to have accelerated them. This is happening all over the world. China is getting involved in more alliances. Japan is as well.

I was in Mexico a couple of weeks ago and I spoke with people there about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and trade alliances. Since President Trump has come into power, he has been talking about how to get Mexico to pay for the wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico. He has also made a number of negative comments about Mexico and about NAFTA. Furthermore, President Trump has also pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Prime Minister Abe seems to be trying to save the TPP. He will not be able to move forward with the United States, but with all that has happened, we now have countries like Mexico that are looking at the situation with the United States and actively wanting the TPP to continue without the United States. Japan could thus, take a larger leadership role regarding the TPP.. 

With President Trump continuing to push his wall idea, US-Mexico relations are deteriorating. This presents a very good opportunity for China to develop its alliance with Mexico. When I spoke in Mexico, a trade delegation from China was there at the same time. These sorts of things are already happening more frequently. There has been movement on the part of other countries to create alliances outside of the partnerships with the United States ever since the financial crisis. With the election of President Trump, these movements are only accelerating. 

The Japan-EU EPA is a major agreement that has impacted that movement. Japan is a part of the shift that we are seeing as power in the international community moves slightly away from the United States. To a large extent, Japan can greatly influence how this shift plays out. Japan is already also involved in a number of other large trade deals, such as the TPP or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). These deals could create a large amount of trade, and Japan is playing a leadership role in their negotiations. These deals are being worked out in opposition to US policies. Unless US policies change soon, they will move forward.

And as the rest of the world moves forward with its own deals, the situation in the United States today is one in which the financial crisis and the concept of “Too Big to Fail” has led many to question whether we don’t need more regulation in the banking sector to avoid another crisis.  However, many of the senior people in the Trump administration seem to be not very interested in bringing back something like the Glass-Steagall Act, so not enough is happening. There is action taking place around military spending. Although the new budget hasn’t passed yet, the draft does include a large boost for the military. We have a lot of people now working in Congress to figure out how the new budget will work, whether they can cut corporate taxes, or cut social spending, and so on.

The latest draft budget will increase defense spending by approximately $53 billion. It earmarks an extra $2.8 billion for spending on homeland security. To make that budget balanced, President Trump is cutting from social insurance programs and institutions related to international alliances. President Trump’s isolationist tendencies are not supported just by the things he says; if the budget is passed, that isolationism will be carried out through budget cuts.   

Meanwhile, he is doing no meaningful work on his campaign promise to bring back the Glass-Steagall Act. In fact, there is movement in his ranks toward further deregulation. A recent bill passed in the House of Representatives, dubbed “The Financial Choice Act”  called for the loosening of banking regulations. If this new legislation is passed, it will likely just require that banks hold onto more money for emergencies, in reserves, rather than actually separate deposits and lending activities from speculative ones. 

I think the lesson here is that there is a lot of inconsistency in what President Trump has said and what his administration is doing, and I think that people around the world understand this and that it is catalyzing the shifts in power and new economic alliances that we are seeing globally. The Trump presidency is accelerating the movement of world currencies away from the United States dollar.

Alongside all of that is the problem of whether or not the markets are sustainable at their current levels. They are not. There is a lot of risk in markets and in the economy right now. There exists a large disconnect between how the financial sector feels about the economy and how normal people outside of the financial sector feel about it. There remains a disconnect between how politicians view the economy and markets and the banking and monetary system and how it's viewed by populations on the ground. This dichotomy fueled by ongoing money conjuring policies can't end well, it can only result in another crisis. The question isn't if, but when. 

 

Monday
Apr202015

Decisions: Life and Death on Wall Street by Janet M. Tavakoli: My Review

Janet Tavakoli is a born storyteller with an incredible tale to tell. In her captivating memoir, Decisions: Life and Death on Wall Street, she takes us on a brisk  journey from the depravity of 1980s Wall Street to the ramifications of the systemic recklessness that crushed the global economy. Her compelling narrative sweeps through her warnings about the dangers of certain bank products in her path-breaking books, speeches before the Federal Reserve, and in talks with Jaime Dimon.

She probes the moral complexity behind the lives, suicides and murders of international bankers mired in greed and inner conflict. Some of the people that touched her Wall Street career reflect broken elements of humanity. The burden of choosing money and power over values and humility translates to a loss for us all. 

To truly understand the stakes of the global financial game, you must know its building blocks; the characters, testosterone, and egos, as well as the esoteric products designed to squeeze investors, manipulate rules, and favor power-players. You had to be there, and you had to be paying attention. Janet was. That’s what makes her memoir so scary. In Decisions, she breaks the hard stuff down with humor and requisite anger. As a side note, her international banking life eerily paralleled my own - from New York to London to New York to alerting the public about the risky nature of the political-financial complex.

Her six chapters flow along various decisions, as the title suggests. In Chapter 1 “Decisions, Decisions”, Janet opens with an account of the laddish trading floor mentality of 1980s Wall Street. In 1988, she was Head of Mortgage Backed Securities Marketing for Merrill Lynch.  Those types of securities would be at the epicenter of the financial crisis thirty years later.

Each morning she would broadcast a trade idea over the ‘squawk box.‘ Then came the stripper booked for a “final-on-the-job-stag party.” That incident, one repeated on many trading floors during those days, spurred Janet to squawk, not about mortgage spreads, but about decorum. Merrill ended trading floor nudity and her bosses ended her time in their department. Her bold stand would catapult her to “a front row seat during the biggest financial crisis in world history.” Reading Decisions, you’ll see why this latest financial crisis was decades in the making.

In Chapter 2 “Decision to Escalate”, Janet chronicles her work with Edson Mitchell and Bill Broeksmit, who hired her to run Merrill’s lucrative asset swap desk after the stripper incident. Bill and Janet shared Chicago roots and MBAs from the University of Chicago. Janet became wary of the serious credit problems lurking beneath asset swap deals, many of which involved fraud. The rating agencies were as oblivious then, as they were thirty years later. Transparency was important to Janet. She and Bill “agreed to clearly disclose the risks—including [her] reservations about “phony” ratings.” Many Merrill customers with high-risk appetites didn’t care. They got burned when the underlying bonds defaulted.  Rinse. Repeat.

During that time, Janet penned a thriller, Archangels: Rise of the Jesuits, eventually published in late 2012. It probed the suspicious death of shady Italian banker Roberto Calvi. In June 1982, Calvi was found hanged from scaffolding under London’s Blackfriars Bridge. Ruled a suicide, the case re-merged in 2002 when modern forensics determined Calvi was murdered. Neither Bill nor Janet bought the suicide story; though Bill joked he’d never hang himself.   

Janet and I both moved to London in the 1990s, I left Lehman Brothers in New York for Bear Stearns in London in 1993 to run their financial analytics and structured transactions (F.A.S.T.) group. Those were heady days for young American bankers. We all wanted to be in London where the action was. Edson Mitchell and Bill Broeksmit wound up working for Deutsche Bank in London in the mid 1990s.

In 1997, Edson asked Janet to join him at Deutsche Bank given her expertise in structured trades and credit derivatives. The credit derivatives market was an embryonic $1 trillion. By its 2007 peak, it was $62 trillion. She declined.  Edson died three years later in a plane crash.

In Chapter 3, “A Way of Life”, Janet describes her personal epiphany and public alerts about credit derivatives and the major financial deregulation that would impact us all. In 1998, she wrote the first trade book warning of those risks, Credit Derivatives: Instruments and Applications. A year later, on November 12, 1999, the Clinton Administration passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that had separated deposit taking from speculation at banks. In 2000, President Clinton signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that prevented over-the-counter derivatives (like credit derivatives) from being regulated as futures or securities. His Working Group included former Treasury Secretary and former co-chair of Goldman Sachs, Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan,  

With Glass-Steagall gone, banks had the green light to gamble with their customers’ FDIC-insured deposits and enter investment-banking territory through mergers. They “used their massive balance sheets to trade derivatives and take huge risks.” Our money became their seed money to burn.

Once the inevitable fallout from this government subsidized casino unleashed the financial crisis of 2008, bank apologists, turned star financial journalists like Andrew Ross Sorkin would say the repeal of Glass Steagall had nothing to do with the crisis, since the banks that failed, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers were investment banks, not commercial banks that acquired investment banks. That argument missed the entire make-up of the post-Glass Steagall financial system. Investment banks like Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and Goldman Sachs had to over-leverage their smaller balance sheets to compete with the conglomerate banks like Citigroup and JPM Chase. These mega banks in turn funded their investment bank competitors who concocted and traded toxic assets. They supplied credit lines for Countrywide’s subprime loan issuance. Everyone could bet on the same things in different ways.

While Janet’s 2003 book, Collateralized Debt Obligations & Structured Finance explained the architecture and risks of CDOs and credit derivatives, her 1998 book became an opportunists’ guide. One type of credit derivatives trade, a ‘big short’ that profited when CDOs plummeted in price, gained notoriety when Michael Lewis wrote a book by that name. Michael Burry, the man Lewis chronicled, ultimately testified before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that, among other things, he read Janet’s 1998 book before trading. Lewis wrote of the aftermath, Janet’s analysis contributed to the main event.  Taxpayers took the hit.

As the securitization and CDO markets exploded in the 2000s, credit derivatives linked to CDOs stuffed with subprime-loans became financial time bombs. Janet was one of a few voices with in-depth knowledge of the structured credit markets, sounding alarms. Her voice, and those of other skeptics (myself included) were increasingly “marginalized” by a media and political-financial system promoting the belief that defaulting loans stuffed into highly leveraged, non-transparent, widely-distributed assets wrapped in derivatives were no problem.

In early June 2010, Phil Angelides, Chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) questioned former Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince and Robert Rubin (who became Vice-Chairman of Citigroup after leaving the Clinton administration. ) They denied knowing Citigroup had troubles until the fall of 2007. Incredulously, Janet listened as Angelides accepted their denial even though Citigroup was hurting in the first quarter of 2007 due to their $200 million credit line to Bear Stearns whose hedge funds had imploded.

So many lies linger. According to Janet, “One of the most unattractive lies of the 2008 financial crisis was that investment bank Goldman Sachs would not have failed and did not need a bailout.” But then-Treasury Secretary and former Goldman-Sachs Chairman and CEO, Hank Paulson rejected an investment bid in AIG from China Investment Corporation while AIG owed Goldman Sachs and its partners billions of dollars on credit derivatives wrapping defaulting CDOs. That enabled him to arrange an AIG bailout to help Goldman Sachs recoup its money at US taxpayers’ expense. 

Goldman Sachs claimed it was merely an intermediary in those deals. Janet exposed a different story – presenting a list of CDOs against which AIG wrote credit derivatives protection. Underwriters of such deals are legally obligated to perform appropriate due diligence and disclose risks. Goldman Sachs had been underwriter or co-underwriter on the largest chunk of them, an active, not intermediary role. Some deals were inked while Paulson was CEO.

In Chapter 4 “Irreversible Decision,Janet circles back to Deutsche Bank and her old boss, Bill. The SEC was investigating allegations that Deutsche Bank didn’t disclose $12 billion of credit derivatives losses from 2007-2010. In a 2011 presentation, Bill said the allegations had no merit. Meanwhile, Deutsche Bank faced investigations into frauds including LIBOR manipulation, helping hedge funds dodge taxes, and suspect valuation of credit derivatives.

Janet reveals the dramatic outcome of those investigations in Chapter 5, “Systemic Breakdown.” On January 26, 2014, Bill Broeksmit, 58, hung himself in his home in London’s Evelyn Gardens  (the block where I first lived when I moved to London for Bear Stearns.) She was shocked by the method. Bill had made clear his “aversion to death by hanging.” Those decades in finance had crushed him.  

Six months later, a Senate Subcommittee cited Deutsche Bank and Barclays Bank in a report about structured financial products abuse. Broeksmit’s email on synthetic nonrecourse prime broker facilities was Exhibit 26. Banks had placed a large chunk of their balance sheets at risk, flouting regulations, and enabling a tax scheme. From 2000 to 2013, the subcommittee reported hedge funds may have avoided $6 billion in taxes through structured trades with banks. 

Finally, in Chapter 6, “Washington’s Decision: “A Bargain,”” Janet reminds us that September 2015 marks the seventh anniversary of the financial crisis. She calls Paulson and Rubin  financial wrecking balls for their role in the crisis and cover-up.

She ends Decisions on the ominous note that “the government tried to hide the real beneficiaries of the bailout policies – Wall Street elites – behind a mythical idea of a “crisis of confidence” if we prosecuted, arrested, and imprisoned crooks. “

The real crisis of confidence though, is due to the clique of inculpable political and financial leaders. Alternatively, she writes, “If we indicted fraudsters, raised interest rates, and broke up too-big-to-fail banks, people would have more confidence in our government and in the financial system..” 

Instead, we get Ben Bernanke espousing the "moral courage" it took to use taxpayers’ money and issue debt against our future to subsidize Wall Street over the real economy, allegedly for our benefit. Big banks are bigger. Wealth inequality is greater. Economic stability has declined. The bad guys got away with it. Read Janet’s illuminating book to see how and to grasp the enormity of what we are up against. 

Sunday
Jul202014

Dodd-Frank Turns Four and Nothing Fundamental has Changed

This is an abridged version of my remarks on the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act and impotence of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act at the Schiller Institute's 30th Anniversary Conference in New York City. June 15 2014. Full text and video are here. July 21, 2014 marks four years since the Dodd-Frank Act was signed.

Thank you. I want to address a few things today, one of which is the Glass-Steagall Act, and what it meant to our country’s history, why it was passed, how it helped, and how the repeal of that Act in 1999 has created a tremendously unstable environment for individuals at the hands of private banking institutions and political-financial alliances with governments and central banks.

I also want to talk about how some of the remedies that have been proposed in the wake of the 2008 subprime crisis, including the Dodd-Frank Act, and its allegedly most important component, the Volcker Rule, are ineffective at combatting this risk; and that what we really need to do is go back to a time, and go back to a policy, and to use the strength and intent of the original Glass-Steagall Act to [attain] a new Glass-Steagall Act, in order for us to be safe going forward. When I say “us,” I mean everybody in this room. I mean the population of the United States. I mean the populations throughout the globe.

Because what we have today, and what we’ve had in the wake of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, is [a condition] where the largest banking institutions have been able to increase the concentration of their capital, of their influence, and of their power. This has been subsidized and substantiated by [bi-partisan] political forces within the White House, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and governments throughout the world—in particular, throughout Europe and through the ECB—and it’s something that must change to achieve more [financial and] economic stability for the greater citizenry.

How the Glass-Steagall Act Came To Be

Let’s go back in time, to [consider] how the Glass-Steagall Act came about. We had a major crash in 1929. It was the result of a tremendous amount of speculation, and also rigging of markets by the larger financial institutions, as well as things called trusts, which were small components of these institutions, that were set up in order to bet on various industries, and collections of companies within those industries, and so forth, as well as to make special bets on foreign bonds in foreign lands; as well as to make bets on the housing market, which is something we’ve seen and are familiar with quite recently.

A lot of this activity was done, in particular, by the Big Six banks at the time—which included National City Bank and First National Bank, which today we know as Citigroup; the Morgan Bank and the Chase Bank, which today we know as JPMorgan Chase; as well as two other Big Six bank.  [The men running these banks] got together in the wake of the crash in 1929, which they had helped to [perpetrate], and decided that they needed to save the markets, as they were deteriorating very quickly.

The reason they wanted to save the markets was not because they wanted to protect the population; it was because they wanted to protect themselves. The way they chose to do that, was to put in $25 million each, after only a 20-minute meeting that occurred at the Morgan Bank on No. 23 Wall Street, catty-corner from the New York Stock Exchange. After this 20-minute meeting, which was called together by a man named Thomas Lamont, who was a major banker at the time, and the acting chairman of the Morgan Bank, these six bankers broke and went out into the streets. The press heralded them as heroes who [had] saved the day, and in particular, heralded the Morgan Bank as an institution that [had] yet again save the economy from virtual catastrophe.

It [the press] compared the decision that was made after that 20-minute meeting to what had happened after the Panic of 1907, when J.P. Morgan, the patriarch of the Morgan Bank, had been called upon by President Teddy Roosevelt, to save what was then a situation of deteriorating markets, and of deposits being crushed, and of citizens losing their money because of the rigging of markets.

At the meeting, the decision was to buy up stocks. The stocks that were bought were the ones in which the Big Six banks had the most interest. The market rose for a day, which is why the newspapers were so happy. It was why President Herbert Hoover, at the time, decided he might actually get re-elected, as opposed to facing not just “un-election”, but also, a bad historical legacy. And everybody was quite pleased with the results.

Unfortunately, as we know, after the market rose, after that day, after they put in the money to buy those stocks, it crashed by 90% over the next few years. The country was thrown into a Great Depression. Twenty-five percent of the individuals in the country were unemployed. There was a global depression that was ignited because of [global speculation and debt gone awry]. Foreclosures skyrocketed, businesses closed, thousands of smaller banks [collapsed], and the country plunged into dire straits, [as did the world].

FDR’s Bankers

Into that, came President FDR, and something that’s very interesting historically, that I did not even know before I [researched] my latest book, All the Presidents’ Bankers. FDR had friends - and they were bankers. Two of [his banker] friends were James Perkins, who ran the National City Bank after the Crash of 1929, and Winthrop Aldrich, who was the son of Nelson Aldrich, who happened to have been [the] Senator that [spawned] the Federal Reserve Act, or its precursor, as created at Jekyll Island in 1910 with four big bankers [See Chap. 1 in All the Presidents’ Bankers for more detail on this.]

These were men of pedigree. These were men of power. These were men of wealth. Even before the Glass-Steagall [or Banking] Act was passed in [June] of 1933, and signed into law, these men worked with FDR, because they believed that if they separated the institutions they were running - their banks, the biggest banks in the country - into keeping deposits of individuals safe and divided from speculative activities and the creation [and distribution] of securities that could sour very quickly - then not only their banks, but the general economy [would be sounder.]

That was the theory behind the Glass-Steagall Act: if you separate risky endeavors and practices, and the concentration of that risk, from individual deposits and loans, then you create a more stable banking system, a more stable financial market, a more stable population, and a more stable economy. FDR believed that, and the bankers believed that.

Even before the Act was passed, Aldrich and Perkins [met] with FDR in the first 10 days of his administration, and promised FDR they would separate their banks. And that’s why [Glass-Steagall] was more than just legislation. It was the [result] of a [positive] political-financial alliance and policy to stabilize the system, so that everybody could benefit.

Those [bankers] also did benefit. Their legacies benefitted. The National City Bank that was run by Perkins, the Chase Bank that was run by Aldrich—those banks exist today. But the Glass-Steagall Act enabled them to grow in a more stable manner. Aldrich and Perkins chose to keep the deposit-taking and lending arms of their banks. They promoted the Act [publicly] alongside FDR. Congress, in a bipartisan fashion and enthusiastically, passed the Glass-Steagall Act. So, it was a [sound] national platform on every level.

That’s something we don’t have today.

The Take-Down

What we’ve had since—and it started to a large extent in the late ’70s, and accelerated throughout the Reagan Administration, the Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration, and then ramifications through the second Bush Administration and the Obama Administration, is a disintegration of the idea of that Act. The idea that risky endeavors and deposits should be kept separate in order for stability to exist throughout.

In the ’80s, banks were allowed to merge across [more product lines]. In the ’90s, banks were allowed to [merge across state lines] and increase their share of financial services by re-introducing insurance companies, brokerages, the ability to create securities that we now know today can be quite toxic, as well as trade in derivatives and other types of more technologically complex, even more risky, securities, all under one roof.

[Because] in 1999, under President Bill Clinton, an act was passed, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that summarily repealed all the intent of the Glass-Steagall Act. What it created in its wake, was a free-for-all, a merging and concentration and consolidation of the largest banks into ever-more powerful and influential entities: influential over our capital; over our economy; and with respect to the White House.

This is not something that the bankers ‘pushed’ upon the White House. We should realize this. It is something that [also stemmed from] Washington, under several administrations, under bipartisan leaderships, under different types of Treasury secretaries that came from the very same banking system that they were supposedly going to watch over from public office—they all collaborated to repeal this Act.

In 2002, 2003, 2004, when rates were low, and subprime loans started to be offered in bulk, these banks, that now had much more concentration over deposits, over insurance products, over brokerages, and over asset management arms, were able to create [toxic] securities out of a very small amount of loans. Out of a half a trillion dollars worth of subprime loans, extended to individuals, they were able to create a $14 trillion mountain of toxic assets. They were able to leverage that mountain, $14 trillion, to $140 trillion of risk, by virtue of the co-dependencies of the Big Six banks, by virtue of the derivatives involved in the securities [administered through other financial entities], that were laced with these mortgages, and by all sorts of complex different types of financial engineering.

As we know, that practice concluded [badly] in 2008. [But] this time, the result of that implosion was not to chop off the arms of these banks. It was not having men running these banks, like Winthrop Aldrich, say, “You know, this was a bad idea. We screwed up our banks, we screwed up the markets, we screwed up people, we screwed up the economy—let’s separate. Let’s go back to a time that was simpler, that was saner.”

That decision wasn’t made. What occurred instead was a decision at the highest levels of Washington, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, the New York Federal Reserve, to coddle this very banking system, and to subsidize it, to sustain it, and all its flaws, and with all the risks that permeated [from it] around the entire population in the United States, and throughout the world, with trillions of dollars of loans, of debt, [of purchases], of cheap money, of a zero-interest-rate policy approaching its sixth year, which means these banks can continue to be liquid, even though they are very unhealthy, and promoting their interests over the interests of the wider population [or customer-base].

Dodd-Frank: The Banks Are Bigger Than Ever

The Dodd-Frank Act was passed and signed into law by President Obama on July 21, 2010. President Obama, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, as well as many pundits in the media, said it would dial back this immense risk and [act as] sweeping regulation [just] like in the Great Depression.

But it has done absolutely nothing of the kind. In the wake of the 2008 crisis, the big banks are bigger. JPMorgan Chase was able very cheaply [to acquire] Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, to become the largest bank in the United States again. This ties back to the legacy of J.P. Morgan in the 1907 Panic, throughout the decisions that were made at its request before 1929, in the wake of the 1929 Crash, and so forth.

Citigroup has managed to survive. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, [Bank of America]—all of these banks, the Big Six today, which are largely variations of the Big Six banks, historically, 100 years ago, with a couple of additions and many mergers along the way—have been able to sustain themselves due to a government policy that has enabled them to grow and promote risky practices that are dangerous to all of us.

The Dodd-Frank Act doesn’t separate these banks. It doesn’t make them smaller. It doesn’t diffuse their derivatives concentration [and co-dependencies]. The Big Six banks today in the United States, control 96% of all the derivatives trading in the United States. They control 45% of all the derivatives trading throughout the globe. They control 84% of the FDIC-assured deposits throughout all of the banks in the United States, and 85% of the assets throughout all of the banks in the United States. So their concentration, their power, is immense in the wake of the 2008 crisis, and in the wake of this alleged remedy to the crisis, which is the Dodd-Frank Act.

And the final component of that Act, which is supposed to at least reduce their riskiest trading practices, or proprietary trading: The Volcker Rule is an 892 page [piece of legislation], that [contains] 55 pages of definitions and rule, and the rest is exemptions to that rule. The banks can continue to make markets, to hedge, to provide hedge funds and private equity funds, just under different language, to keep their insurance arms, to keep their brokerages, to create complex securities that are so interlocked that if one fails, the rest of them fail. And if the bank that has the most of them fails or falters, the other banks in this entire system will fail or falter as well. So, nothing in the Volcker Rule of the Dodd-Frank Act materially changes anything.

Resurrect Glass-Steagall!

What we need is a resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act. And We need to realize it wasn’t just a law; it was a policy of stability. It was a political and financial alliance between the White House and the biggest bankers of the time, and the population.

That’s what we must press, and that’s the only thing—a complete separation of risky endeavors from our money, from normal lending practices, [from government subsidies]—that can even start to foster a more stable financial system, banking system, and economic environment for all the rest of us.

That’s the take-away from today. There’s more information about the lead-up to the Glass-Steagall Act, the swipes at it over time, the particular alignment and relationships of Presidents and bankers that actually cared more about the population’s economic stability as well, as the ones that didn’t care at all. This can be found in my book All the Presidents’ Bankers, which I urge you to check out, to gain [further] knowledge about the reasons for why we had that Act, and why it’s more necessary than ever, today.