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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

March 15, 2010 at 9:25 AM

Dodd’s big financial reform push looks smaller and smaller

The regulatory bill being announced today by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Financial Services, reminds me of Sarbanes-Oxley, the watered-down enforcement bill passed in the wake of the Enron/WorldCom/Etc. scandals. Lots of paperwork. No real change to corporate venality.

For example, the New York Times reports that it will make no major changes in the regulation of derivatives. Yes, the financial weapons of mass destruction, as Warren Buffet called them, will get to keep ticking. Derivatives, largely unregulated and opaque, were at the heart of the financial Great Panic that sent the system to the brink and cost American taxpayers trillions.

The too-big-to-fail banks would remain intact — keeping another explosive armed and dangerous. No new wall between risky investment banking and the commercial banks backed by taxpayers. More power would be vested in the Federal Reserve, which did such a dandy job in seeing and stopping the mischief that got us into the worst downturn since the Great Depression — and is essentially owned by the banks themselves. Consumer protection? Don’t hold your breath. And yet Dodd’s modest proposals will be heavy lifting. Something is very wrong here.

The Back Story: We’ll see where this goes, but it was only a matter of time before the “there’s a mouse in my Pepsi can” crowd came out to try to make a buck off Toyota’s troubles. In California, big doubts are being cast on a man’s claims of Prius sudden acceleration.

Meanwhile, a sobering Time magazine poll finds a majority of respondents say America is in decline, big numbers saying they are no longer middle class, and doubts about the next generation doing better.

When I say “capacity utilization,” don’t head for the hockey scores. Here’s a fascinating chart on the topic that essentially shows decades of the hollowing out of the productive American economy. That’s what makes American debt scarier — that we lack the means to work our way out beyond bubbles and a “creative” financial services industry.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Kids, let’s do reform

My dad has a barn (and bank)

It will be child’s play

Comments | More in Bailout, Banking, Federal Reserve, Income/living standards, Manufacturing

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