Barry Ritholtz: Rebuild the Firewall Between Main Street and Wall Street Banks

Thursday, 18 Jul 2013 08:17 AM

By John Morgan

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A lifeboat shortage on the Titanic did not cause it to sink, but it clearly raised the body count. The repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act had a similar effect in allowing the 2008 financial meltdown to spread from Wall Street to Main Street, according to financial commentator and author Barry Ritholtz.

Writing on his blog, Ritholtz noted it would be instructive to recount what Glass-Stegall can offer, given the fact that a new U.S. Senate bill to revive the measure is riding a crest of attention.

The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and John McCain, R-Ariz., would once again separate commercial banks (i.e., Main Street) from investment banks (i.e., Wall Street) to safeguard the consumer and the integrity of the banking system.

Editor's Note:
 
Economist Warns: ‘Money From Heaven a Path to Hell.’ See Evidence.

The revival measure, dubbed the "21st Century Glass-Steagall Act," would prevent Wall Street banks from making risky bets by using consumer deposits as their collateral.

Ritholtz, CEO of Fusion IQ, noted Glass-Steagall was passed in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash that led the nation into the Great Depression. At the time, many Main Street banks lost their access to capital because Wall Street banks collapsed, and a snowball effect occurred.

There was a massive surge of foreclosures then, and operating capital vanished, industrial production collapsed, and unemployment skyrocketed — similar to what happened in the United States in 2008, but even worse.

When Glass-Steagall was repealed in the 1990s, the firewall between Main Street banks and Wall Street banks came down.

"There is no doubt that its repeal allowed the credit crisis to expand faster, wider and have a greater impact than if that firebreak still existed," Ritholtz wrote.

High-profile supporters for bringing back Glass-Steagall also include former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, current FDIC Vice Chairman Thomas Hoenig, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former Citigroup CEO John Reed.

The new Warren-McCain version of Glass-Steagall is given a scant possibility of passage, but Warren is undeterred, NBC News reported.

"Let me put it this way," she told CNBC, "If you don't fight for it, the chances are zero."

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Warren said, "It will take a lot of tools to get rid of too big to fail, but one of them ought to be that if you want to do high-stakes gambling, good on you, but you do not get access to people's checking accounts and savings accounts."

Editor's Note: Economist Warns: ‘Money From Heaven a Path to Hell.’ See Evidence.

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