Sorry, But the 'Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010' Will Do No Such Thing
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Unfortunately, it's more of a Bush 43 "mission accomplished" than an Apollo 13 "mission accomplished." That's because the financial reform bill passed by the Senate last week, like Bush's ship deck ceremony, is more notable for what it has left to still be done.
The Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 will do no such thing. First, it doesn't do enough to rein in Wall Street. It doesn't end "too big to fail" banks, doesn't create a Glass-Steagall style firewall between commercial and investment banking, keeps taxpayers on the hook for future bailouts, and leaves open dangerous loopholes in the regulation of derivatives. And we can expect more loopholes to be inserted as the bill heads to conference committee. In D.C., crafting a bill without them would be like baking bread without yeast. Though you can't see them, they're what makes a Washington bill rise.
There's a reason a longtime investment banker, speaking to the New York Times, said of his colleagues' reaction to the new bill, "If you talk to anyone privately, there's a sigh of relief."
Don't expect a similar reaction on Main Street. Despite its name, this bill will not be restoring financial stability to the tens of millions of hardworking Americans whose lives have been turned upside down by the economic crisis.
On nearly every front in the real economy -- from jobs to consumer spending to foreclosures -- we've made virtually no progress at all. While Washington and the media have been consumed with the titanic debate over this reform bill, talk of the actual suffering by actual people in the actual economy is virtually a taboo subject, at least judging by how rarely it makes the front pages or leads the TV news.
But the data points are all around us. In a speech last week, Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland Fed, surveyed the landscape and did not see a lot of financial stability, partly because of the huge loss of skills that is being suffered by the long-term unemployed. "Research... tells us that workers lose valuable skills during long spells of unemployment, and that some jobs simply don't return," she said. "Multiply this effect millions of times over, and it has the potential to dampen overall economic productivity for years."
Her conclusion: "Many people are now just aiming for 'financial security' as their American dream." In other words, the core idea of the American Dream -- work hard and advance up the ladder -- has been gutted. Now the American Dream is to try to not fall, or do all you can to slow your rate of decline.
And forget about having enough in the bank to give your kids a leg up on doing better than you've done. It's hard enough just to keep a job until you retire -- if that's even going to be an option. At a D.C. jobs fair for older workers this month, more than 3,000 job seekers showed up for the event, entitled "Promoting Yourself at 50+." Not surprising, given that the average jobless stint for those unemployed who are 55 and over was around 43 weeks, as of last month. (Quick note to struggling politicians out there: want a huge crowd at your campaign rally? Call it a "jobs fair," and you'll have lines of people around the corner.)
Their children and grandchildren who are just graduating from college aren't faring any better. According to Business Week, the 1.6 million about to hit the job market with their expensive degrees will be confronting a youth unemployment rate of almost 20 percent -- the highest rate since the Labor Department started tracking youth unemployment in 1948.