Friday, September 19, 2008

Big Finance: Regulation needed urgently, if it isn't too late

Here's how I see it. FDR saved capitalism by titrating it with enough socialism as to prevent an all-out revolution in the wake of the depression. After WWII, the owners of the country allowed a middle class to develop, which softened us up and took away the working class spunk and understanding of class that led, ironically, to the development of the middle class in the first place. After a generation or so, the owners began undermining labor, building spare capacity and transferring jobs out of the country. At the same time they moved the "surplus population," mainly comprising wrongly-hued Americans, into prisons through the War on (Some) Drugs, which had the dual effect of keeping unemployment stats down relative to "socialized" economies and of getting the rest of us used to a police-prison state. Now they've peeled back the rest of the protections that were put into place post-1929 and this time they have the police-prison-surveillance state in place to deal with the inevitable social breakdown in the wake of the next depression.

Or something like that.
The current crisis is the culmination of a quarter century's deregulation. Even as the Fed and Treasury scramble to contain the damage, there must be a simultaneous effort to reconstruct a regulatory system to prevent future disasters.
There is more urgency to such an effort than immediately apparent. If the Fed and Treasury succeed in controlling the situation and avoiding a collapse of the global financial system, then it is a near certainty that Big Finance -- albeit a financial sector that will look very different than it appeared a year ago -- will rally itself to oppose new regulatory standards. And the longer the lag between the end (or tailing off) of the financial crisis and the imposition of new legislative and regulatory rules, the harder it will be to impose meaningful rules on the financial titans.
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