Friday, 22 January 2010

Reforming banks - A fight to the death?

Whilst some (e.g. Gordon Brown) focus on spin, others focus on substance (e.g. Barack Obama).  Whilst some try to paper over the cracks (e.g. UK), others try to focus on solving the problem (e.g. USA).  This has become ever clearer over recent days and weeks .... in relation to dealing with banks ...  

Gordon Brown decided to introduce a one-off 'bonus tax' for bankers, which involved far more spin than substance.  Barack Obama on the other hand plans to introduce a bank levy and made it clear 'Wall Street' must pay back all the $117bn (£72bn) that US taxpayers are expected to lose from bailing out the banks during the financial crisis. "My commitment is to recover every single dime the American people are owed ... We want our money back and we're going to get it", the President said.

However over the last two days he has gone much further.  President Barack Obama has proposed significant new curbs on the activities of banks to try to prevent future financial crises.  The plans include limits to the size of banks and restrictions on riskier trading. "Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by banks that are too big to fail," Mr Obama said.   He added he was ready for a "fight" with any banks prepared to lobby against tougher regulations.

"While the financial system is far stronger today than it was one year ago, it is still operating under the exact same rules that led to its near collapse," Mr Obama said.  His proposals also include a ban on retail banks from using their own money in investments - known as proprietary trading. Instead, banks would be limited to investing their customers' funds.

I, and many others in the blogosphere, have regularly pointed out the fallacy of allowing retail banking and risky investment banking being joined together and remaining together, but the UK Government has singly failed to address this issue, and the BBC failed in it's duty to press home this issue either.  

Mr Obama's proposals appear to be a return to the principles underlying the Glass-Steagall Act. That law - from the 1930s in the aftermath of the Great Depression - separated commercial and investment banking and was eventually abolished in 1999 under President Bill Clinton.

"I am proposing simple, common sense reforms" Mr Obama said, and vowed "If these folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have".