You'll hear a lot of sound bytes today about the Bush administration's proposal to deal with the latest Wall Street scandals as "the most sweeping regulations since the Great Depression" or some such drivel. Don't be fooled. This second major wave of venal crime in Mr. Bush's presidency will be dealt with no more effectively as the first, perhaps less so.
All you need to know was in this Sunday preview in the New York Times:
Although the proposal would impose the first regulation of hedge funds and private equity funds, that oversight would have a light touch, enabling the government to do little beyond collecting information — except in times of crisis.
The regulatory umbrella created in the 1930s would grow wider, with power concentrated in fewer agencies. But that authority would be limited, doing virtually nothing to regulate the many new financial products whose unwise use has been a culprit in the current financial crisis.
Another interesting take this morning from Mother Jones:
There remains an enormous deregulatory elephant in the room that no one is addressing, but rather everyone accepts as an irrevocable presence—Glass-Steagall repeal. In the face of current debate about whether more oversight will fix our nation's housing problems or the banking credit crunch of its own making, there is a steadfast refusal to consider that change can mean relying on past measures that have proven effective.
The banking system simply must be regulated at source. Thanks to Glass-Steagall repeal in late 1999, so-called commercial banks today are merely composites of investment and commercial banks that can manufacture loans on one side of their balance sheet and trade them on the other.
In other words, the way is clear for more CEO malfeasance, more looting of America's wealth, more crony capitalism, another bubble. Sadly, the gutted business staffs of America's dumbed-down newspapers -- which have also eliminated most of their independent coverage of Washington -- will miss all this.
The current mess is only a preview of the damage that will be done by a combination of a largely unregulated shadow capital market, weak oversight and crippling American debt and other economic vulnerabilities (poor education, falling capacity to produce things of real value, a conservative entitlement society, etc.).
Biggest irony: The Fed is being given new responsibility to identify crises before they happen. Yet the housing bubble was created largely by Alan Greenspan's Fed.