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5 questions every presidential candidate should answer on politics and the financial crisis

February 24, 2016

By Peter J. Wallison

Echoes of the 2008 financial crisis continue to reverberate through election year politics, regulatory policy discussions, and even Hollywood films like The Big Short. Below are five questions about the crisis that are currently receiving attention, and that presidential candidates should be equipped to answer, together with my own answers.

  1. Should Glass-Steagall be reinstated?

No one who knows anything about either Glass-Steagall or the causes of the financial crisis would ask this question, but it is often heard in Congress and elsewhere. The so-called “repeal” of Glass-Steagall in 1999 — it wasn’t repealed and is still applicable to banks — had absolutely nothing to do with the financial crisis. The 1999 changes in one sector of Glass-Steagall Act made only one change in existing law: it permitted affiliations between commercial banks and investment banks. But by the time of the 2008 crisis, none of the large investment banks (like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley or Lehman Brothers) had affiliated with any of the large commercial banks (like Citi, JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America). Commercial banks and investment banks had remained fierce competitors with one another right up to the time of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy.

The simplest way to think about the financial crisis is that the largest investment banks and commercial banks got into financial trouble by acquiring and holding risky mortgages or mortgage backed securities based on these risky loans. This was permitted for both of them before Glass-Steagall was “repealed,” and it was permitted afterward.

In other words, if Glass-Steagall had never been touched by Congress in any way, the financial crisis would have unfolded exactly as it did in 2008. Calls to reinstate Glass-Steagall are disingenuous; many of those in Congress and elsewhere who back this idea know that it is a meaningless proposal, but also that their case for tighter regulation of the financial system is helped if they can claim some connection between reduced regulation and the financial crisis.

Read the full article at the American Enterprise Institute: 5 questions every presidential candidate should answer on politics and the financial crisis

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