Blanche Lincoln to the rescue

The Arkansas senator's proposal for derivatives reform is better than anything else out there

Topics: Bank Reform, Blanche L. Lincoln, D-Ark., Wall Street

Right now, the biggest battle in bank reform is over a provision introduced by Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas that would force the giant Wall Street banks to give up their lucrative derivative trading businesses if they want the government (i.e. taxpayers) to continue insuring their commercial deposits.

The five biggest Wall Street banks have had the derivatives market (derivatives are bets on whether the price of certain assets will rise or fall, bets thereby “derived” from asset prices) almost entirely to themselves. Last year their revenues from derivatives trading totaled a whopping $22.6 billion. Their advantage comes from their large size, plus government insurance of their commercial deposits that allows them to raise money more cheaply than other financial institutions.

Derivatives lie at the point where the basic saving-and-lending function of commercial banking meets the private casino of Wall Street investment banking. You and I subsidize the biggest players in the casino who, precisely because we subsidize them, have grown too big to fail. The Glass-Steagall Act once prevented the casino from using commercial deposits, but since 1999, when Glass-Steagall was repealed, the game has exploded. That’s part of the reason the giants on Wall Street could make wild bets that ended up threatening the entire economy, costing millions of Americans their jobs and savings, and requiring a massive taxpayer-financed bailout.

Lincoln wants to force the banks to put their derivatives into separate entities that aren’t subsidized by you and me. This is just common sense. Her move would also end the big banks’ monopoly over derivatives, thereby reducing their risk to the financial system. It would also cut dramatically into the big banks’ profits.

Obviously, the big banks are apoplectic about Lincoln’s measure and will do almost anything to strip it from the Dodd bill. The banks have 130 registered lobbyists, countless unregistered ones, 40 former banking staffers, and at least one retired senator (Trent Lott) crawling over Capitol Hill, arguing that Lincoln’s provision would be the end of civilization as we know it.

You Might Also Like

They also seem to have ensnared Paul Volcker. Late last week Volcker opined that commercial banks shouldn’t be barred from dealing in derivatives because derivatives are an important aspect of commercial banking; they hedge (that is, provide insurance against) risks associated with interest rates on loans. It’s an odd argument. If derivatives were as essential to the normal practice of lending as Volcker says, you’d expect every commercial bank to be dealing in them instead of just the five giant Wall Street behemoths.

As to the risk you and I might be left holding the bag again, Volcker says not to worry: His own rule now contained in the Dodd bill, preventing bankers from making bets for their own accounts, would take care of that. But Volcker’s rule would not erode the giant banks’ monopoly over derivatives trading — making them too big to fail. By contrast, Lincoln’s provision, by pushing derivative trading out of commercial banking, would remove the big banks’ artificial advantage, resulting in more competition and a better capitalized derivatives market.

Another argument being disingenuously used by Lincoln’s opponents is her measure would push derivative trading into unregulated shadow markets. That’s nonsense. Derivatives would have to be traded through a central clearinghouse or exchange, and every dealer in derivatives would still have to be registered and regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Corporation or by the SEC.

So what are Lincoln’s chances? All the big guns are aiming at her. Lobbyists are lined up against her. Republicans and many Dems who want to do the Street’s bidding are eager to get rid of Lincoln’s measure. But she has two things going for her. First is the awkwardness for the White House if the President were to come out explicitly against her. For many weeks the Administration has talked about the importance of being tough on derivatives. The President has even said he’ll veto any bill that doesn’t go far enough regulating them. Now Lincoln is giving the White House a chance to prove its mettle or show itself to be pandering to the Street on one of the biggest reasons the Street almost melted down in the fall of 2008.

The second advantage Lincoln has is her measure passed her committee with so much momentum — including the votes of every Dem on the panel and one Republican — that it’s been included in Dodd’s overall financial reform bill. While it’s always possible for opponents of reform to hide when amendments are voted down, it’s much harder to hide when trying to strip a provision from a bill. Democrats who want to do so will have to join Republican Senators Judd Gregg, Saxby Chambliss, and Bob Corker, who already have introduced an amendment to accomplish this on behalf of their Wall Street patrons. The public will be able to identify which Senate Dems care more about Wall Street’s campaign donations than the public good.

Volcker has given these Dems, and the White House, some cover. But the public is watching closely. Some cover may not be enough.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His new movie "Inequality for All" is in Theaters. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>