In 1999, at the urging of others, Bill Clinton singed the bill that overturned Glass-Steagall. As a
Image by rawEarth via Flickr
historian, I know Glass-Steagall was created after the crash of 1929. The law existed to prevent banks from gambling with people’s savings as banks had done before the 1929 crash. Bill Moyers, a fellow historian, has been hosting a series examining what went wrong with our economy in the past decade and the repeal of Glass-Steagall may be the biggest culprit in the mystery. Last night in program #3, Bill hosted John Reed formerly of CitiGroup and Byron Dorgan, former Senator (D-ND).
I know it is difficult to get your mind around the problem of what went wrong with the economy, or to work up the energy to care, but as concerned citizens who want our children to have good future, we must pay attention to political issues. The downside of people fighting with each other over party affiliations and elections is that they are distracted from how those with loud voices and lots of money bend the ears of our elected officials no matter what their party affiliation. Both political parties have erred in the past. As Tom Sightings wrote yesterday, forget most of what appears on Fox and MSNBC, many of their programs represent strident biased views.
It does no good to condemn a whole group of people. Take OWS for example, these kids are on to something when they say the banks and Wall Street were at fault in the recent meltdown. Sure, OWS is mostly an inchoate group of youngsters who seem to be interested in “whatever.” But they have a point somewhere…many of the big banks did not play fair.
The TEA party folks are better organized, and they managed to get a number of individuals elected to office in the last mid-term election. No matter how much you might disagree with them, the TEA folks are on to something too. We do need to evaluate all of our spending and determine what is good, and working and what is not. The Simpson-Bowles Commission did this and came up with a pretty good compromise. Sure it has issues. All compromises have issues for someone, but they often work because they find a middle way.
The difference between OWS and TEA is that one is working within the system (TEA) and the other is trying to work from outside the system (OWS). Because I lean conservative, I tend to have more sympathy with those who work within the system, no matter what their politics. This is the democratic way. It does not mean that I think we should turn a blind eye to unfairness and disenfranchisement. On the contrary, I think we must a tackle problems, but do it in a pragmatic fashion with certain results in mind.
Take any issue or problem you can imagine. There is often a middle way that will please a few and be disliked by many but accomplish the goal. I am speaking of compromise of course. The “my way or the highway” mentality usually accomplishes nothing but disaster. A good example of finding the middle way are ranchers and farmers who work with environmentalists to restore clean water. Another is hunters who work with environmentalists to protect endangered species. It can be done.
Richmond VA in 1864 – Wikipedia
Lately, I have been reading about the US Civil War. Barf. I had not intended to read about it, but to get to the Gilded Age one must begin with the period before the Civil War. My book, Yankee Leviathan, is not about land or sea battles, but about the political economy of the United States before, during and after the Civil War. The book explains the origins of the US federal government as we know it today. Our current government was formed in the crucible of war and differs substantially from the Republic formed at the end of the eighteenth century…and for good reason.
Much of the regulation we recognize today associated with the federal government can be traced back to the Civil War. The excesses that occurred during and after that war led to reform and regulation. Like your car brakes, regulation is the brake that allows the ship of state to move safely. Beware of those who speak in generalities about getting rid of regulation. Glass-Steagall regulated the banks for over 70 years and proved a success at preventing another Depression because it reined in greedy bankers.
Regulation can be stupid too. We need to carefully choose which regulations to keep and which to change or reform. Reform is a never-ending job. As Thomas Jefferson said, eternal vigilance is the price of Liberty. Don’t be overwhelmed by rhetoric or the heat of the moment. Think things through, carefully, be pragmatic. Above all, look for solutions not quick fixes.