UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 18, 2009

THREE ESSENTIALS OF FINANCIAL REFORM

Robert Reich

1. Stop bankers from making huge, risky bets with other peoples' money. At the least, require they back their bets with a large percentage of their own capital, and bar them from raising money off their balance sheets through derivative trades. Also require they take their pay in stock options or warrants that can't be cashed in for at least three years, so they'll take a longer-term view. Best of all would be a requirement that investment banks return to being partnerships and the capital on their books be their own, not yours or your pension fund's. When investment banks were partnerships, every partner took an active interest in what every other partner and trader was doing. The real mischief started once they started selling shares to the public.

2. Prevent any bank from becoming too big to fail. Separate commercial from investment banking, as they were before the late 1990s. Commercial banks should return to their basic function of linking savers with borrowers. Investment bankers should return to their casino function of placing bets in the stock market and advising you and others about where to place your own own bets. . . If separating commercial from investment banking isn't enough to bring all banks down to reasonable size, use antitrust laws to break them up.

3. Root out three major conflicts of interest. (1) Credit-rating agencies should no longer be paid by the companies whose issues are being rated; they should be paid by those who use their ratings. (2) Institutional investors like pension funds and mutual funds should not be getting investment advice from the same banks that profit off their investments; the advice should come from sources without a financial stake; (3) the regional Feds that are responsible for much bank oversight should no longer be headed by presidents appointed by the region's bankers; non-bankers should have the major say, and the regional presidents should have to be confirmed by the Senate. . .

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