If you haven't read the 89-page manifesto yet, put away the 5-Hour Energy shots. The Wall Street Journal posted a great summary.
Too lazy to do that? All right, I'll bail you out. (Get it?) Basically, the President has released a comprehensive plan to minimize the effects of the next financial catastrophe on the U.S. and the rest of world. Notice I didn't say "prevent." We'll always have greed, bubbles, and irrational exuberance. All we can do is minimize their effects.
Here are my thoughts on the key areas affected by the plan:
Too big to fail
The plan falls short of forcibly breaking up the Frankenbanks (I'm looking at you, Bank of America
In a post-plan world, there would be more transparency (e.g. derivatives exchanges), more capital requirements, less reliance on credit agencies, and fewer people allowed to play with derivatives. There would also be more skin in the game -- a bank that, for example, originates a mortgage would have to keep some financial interest in it as the mortgage gets sliced and diced into financial sausage.
The plan makes strides to bring accountability to regulation. Because like companies and products would be regulated by the same agency, because regulatory exemptions would be lifted, and because roles would be more clearly defined, there would be less fingers pointing there and more bucks stopping here.
Opening up black boxes
One of the big dangers out there is the laissez-faire treatment of big money: hedge funds, private-equity funds, and venture capital funds. Now, they'd have to register with the SEC, submit to more regulation, and let some light shine into their hitherto unlit worlds. Regulation isn't perfect. (Madoff, for instance, was registered with the SEC well before his scheme blew up.) But an absolute lack of regulation is downright small-f foolish. It's like refusing to wear a seat belt because sometimes they fail.
A decision would finally be made: Wind them down, fully privatize them, or convert them to public utilities. In any case, we know what doesn't work: a quasi-government private company.
An FDA for consumers
This is the portion of the plan getting the most press, and I think the FDA comparison is apt. The Food & Drug Administration makes sure the public is protected from snake-oil salesmen. The Consumer Financial Protection Agency's mission is to stop the drilling in financial snake oil. Before you get all Ayn Rand on me, do you really think unchecked financial innovations like option ARMs do more good than harm? If so, then you probably also think "liquidity" is a sufficient argument for unchecked derivatives -- and you're probably getting ready to cash a huge bonus check from Goldman Sachs
Who's walking for shame?
No plan is perfect, but like Hannibal, I love it when one comes together. We can argue about the details, but it's my belief that President Obama's plan is largely true in its aim. Clearly, something has to be done about "too big to fail," the derivatives casino, and predatory financial products. My walk of shame is not for those who debate portions of the plan, but for the financial special interests that will seek to bastardize the plan for their own selfish gains. President Obama stated it well:
All this hasn't stopped the big financial firms and their lobbyists from mobilizing against change. They're doing what they always do -- descending on Congress, using every bit of influence they have to maintain the status quo that has maximized their profits at the expense of American consumers, despite the fact that recently a whole bunch of those same American consumers bailed them out as a consequence of the bad decisions that they made.
If this plan ends up riddled with loopholes and exemptions or otherwise disfigured beyond recognition, blame Wall Street. And then prepare to bail them out again in a few years.
Agree with me? Think I'm a moron? Let me know in the comments section below.