Thursday, April 02, 2009

How to save $18 billion a year (circa 1999)

Time makes fools of us all eventually, except in this case Sen. Byron Dorgan, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, and a few others.

This contemporaneous NYT article on the passage of the great and glorious bill known as Phil Gramm’s Baby, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, yields some very expensive groaners.

The Times observed that the bill’s passage “followed a rich Congressional debate about the history of finance in America in this century, the causes of the banking crisis of the 1930's, the globalization of banking and the future of the nation's economy….”

I bet C-SPAN‘s ratings soared as hundreds of supersized charts and graphs were paraded forth and placed, always slightly askew, on giant easels.

…. and the Times continued to gush: “[The bill] would become one of the most significant achievements this year by the White House and the Republicans leading the 106th Congress.”

Significant, yes. Achievement, no.

Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex) went all Braveheart/get government off our balance sheets -- “Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.''

Then Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers stared confidently into the future -- ''Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the 21st century…. This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.''

Just to clarify, the new economy is the one where the size ($64 trillion) of the infuriatingly amorphous credit default swaps (CDS) market is larger than the combined world GDP ($56 trillion).

Anyway, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) got all turf-conscious -- ''If we don't pass this bill, we could find London or Frankfurt or years down the road Shanghai becoming the financial capital of the world.

A quietly exasperated Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Nebraska) rebuffed the drama queens -- ''The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown.''

And finally, my personal favorite, the Clinton Administration tally of all the wonderful savings the little people would enjoy -- “The White House has estimated the legislation could save consumers as much as $18 billion a year as new financial conglomerates gain economies of scale and cut costs.”

No comments: