Saturday afternoon I had nap duty with the little one while the rest of the family headed to the pool. I flipped past ESPN while looking for something worth watching and noticed O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco on the screen. That piqued my interest so I put down the remote. Turns out I had tuned into one of ESPN’s “30 for 30” films. The network has been celebrating its 30th anniversary by airing 30 original documentary pieces about significant sports moments since September 7, 1979. Until Saturday I hadn’t paid much attention but this one caught my eye right away. Entitled “June 7, 1994,” it detailed one day in 1994 that included a number of significant sporting events, the most memorable being O.J. Simpson’s surreal ride on the Los Angeles Freeway that was watched by some 95 million viewers. The funny thing about the film to me was that it was fascinating, but I remember almost nothing about it! Watching it Saturday I was struck by the throngs of media that descended on the police station, the crowds of people that gathered on the overpasses to watch O.J.’s Bronco pass underneath, and the mass confusion surrounding the whole saga. Why didn’t I remember anything from that day? This may be a poor example, but the thing I took away from watching this documentary was that it is so easy to forget the past. Winston Churchill said that “those who forget history are bound to repeat it.” I tie this back to banking as my introduction to discussing the historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010). This is a very significant piece of legislation, but whether it will be effective remains to be seen. In a historical context this Act is one in a long line of reforms that were all designed to improve and/or fix a financial system. In some cases, like the Federal Reserve Act (1913), reform was designed to create a system (The Federal Reserve) whereby the general public could depend on the banking system. More recent reform like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (1999), repealed earlier legislation (Glass-Steagall, 1933) and loosened restrictions between banks, investment and securities firms, and insurance companies and allowed them to consolidate. The general consensus leading up to 1999 was that our financial world had advanced and this “old-fashioned” law was no longer needed in our sophisticated self-regulating world. Although many factors led to the financial crisis that came to a head in 2008, deregulation played a MAJOR role in the events that transpired. And this crisis is far from over, as the economic reverberations are still being felt in many different places around the world. So what did we learn from all this? Or putting it another way, what did we forget? The Dodd-Frank Act is a sweeping piece of legislation that will touch every corner of the financial services and banking industry. It created a new consumer protection council, permanently increased protection on FDIC insured deposits to $250,000, eliminated a federal regulatory agency, and that’s just the beginning. And finally, the Act also tried to tie up loose ends that came untied as a result of deregulation. It seems that we may have forgotten history and as a result we ended up repeating it. Some of the details and circumstances were different, but the results were not pretty in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the same holds true for 2007-2010. I’m not going to dig any deeper for now because I’d rather you think I know all the answers! What I do know is that the 2,300+ page bill is only the beginning of an avalanche of legislation and rule-writing that will transform the financial system once again. And for the record, the original Federal Reserve Act was only 32 pages. I’m hoping to spend some time discussing specific pieces of this new legislation in the coming months. I’m very interested to see how all of this pans out in Washington D.C. and I’m pretty sure I’ll have plenty to blog about from here on out.
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