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Monday, March 24, 2008

Paul Krugman Doesn't Need My Help
(except to find a photograph of an obscure press conference) but I think that Jonathan Taplin is being unfair here and is also unfamiliar with the evidence on banking regulation and banking crises.

He tells a tale of how after the Great Depression, Democrats worked to protect the banking system from runs, by enacting a split of Investment Banks and Commercial Banks.


But never once in the whole article does he point out who yielded to the enticements of Wall Street--who was responsible for destroying the Glass-Steagall separation of Banks and Investment Banks--Bill Clinton.

First, Krugman didn't mention the Glass-Steagall act in his column. Taplin must argue (as he does) that obviously the Glass-Steagall act was the key regulation which stabilized the banking system, so Krugman should have discussed it explicitly. It is possible that Krugman is not a hypocrite but that he considers other regulations to have been the key.

I don't know about Krugman, but I certainly think neither that the Glass-Steagall act was the key to relative banking stability while it was in force a, nor that the repeal was the key to the current crisis.

My reason is simple. The Glass-Steagal act was unique to the USA (as far as I know) but banking stability was common to developed countries while it was in force. I think that Taplin has decided that the experience of the rest of the world is irrelevant.

Now if he can explain how the Glass-Steagal act could have prevented our current problems, I'm all ears. I just don't see it.

The most relevant current new event is that investment banks are borrowing from the discount window. Thus the problem is not, say, that commercial banks which were allowed to own common stock gambled and lost. The way in which the Glass-Steagal act would have been relevant is if the investment banks had taken deposits. They didn't. The crisis is based on commercial banks being irrelevant, not on their being allowed to do things they couldn't do before. Repealing the Glass-Steagal act could have helped commercial banks compete in return and in reckless risk bearing with bond financed mortgage lenders. This is not what happened.

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