PunditMom One Year Ago — Would the Economy be Different if They Had Listened to “The Girl?”

Mon, October 19, 2009

Economy, Women in Politics

As I ponder stories about Elizabeth Warren, the head of the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel, as well as the almost simultaneous creation and tearing down of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, I was reminded of this post I wrote a year ago about how things might be different if our testosterone-laden financial services industry took a little time to listen to the girls.

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Even though I worked at the Securities and Exchange Commission for a number of years, trying to explain things like derivatives was never my strong suit. I got the whole concept of futures trading when I took my Agricultural Law class in law school (my farmer dad was VERY proud when I aced that puppy!), so I had an inkling about what they were, but, fortunately, I was never called on to actually explain the intricacies of how they work.

But one thing I knew was this — there is a certain amount of financial mumbo-jumbo involved when you have to derive something from another thing. Things get murky when you’re not talking about simply buying or selling something like a stock or a commodity.

There is an amazing chronological tutorial in the Washington Post about how we got in the mess we’re in now that everyone should read. In case you’re strapped for time, here’s the PunditMom synopsis:

1. In the late 1990s, Former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chief Brooksley Born (the “girl”) tried to convince the male heads of the SEC, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department that it was essential that the government keep strict oversight on derivatives trading.

2. Born was a career attorney with lots of expertise in this area of the law. Former SEC chair Arthur Levitt was the former chair of the American Stock Exchange. Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has served in many large corporate boards, including J.P. Morgan. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was formerly with Goldman Sachs.

3. The “boys” kept pushing for what they called voluntary regulation and compliance over derivatives trading (which would eventually lead to lax regulation on mortgage-backed securities) while Born advocated for actively enforcing the regulations on the books, especially for financial instruments that were a little out of the ordinary.

4. Born lost.

5. Some existing regulations were taken apart to benefit the derivatives indutry. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act was passed, taking down the walls separating commercial and investment banking.

6. Levitt and others now think they might have been wrong and that their actions may have contributed to the current fiscal crisis.

Ya’ think?

So, the moral of the story? Next time, listen to “the girl.”

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Think they’re ready to listen to Elizabeth Warren yet?

Postscript: The  National Women’s Law Center and I must have been channeling the same thoughts today.  I just came across this post at their site, Womenstake, about a Frontline show airing Tuesday night about this very topic!  The show, entitled The Warning features an interview with Brooksley Born about how her economic warnings went unheeded.

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2 Responses to “PunditMom One Year Ago — Would the Economy be Different if They Had Listened to “The Girl?””

  1. Katherine Says:

    I covered Brooksley Born’s ill-fated “concept release” for Bloomberg News and it was pretty stunning to see the forces arrayed against her attempt — not to regulate — but simply to ask whether there should be ANY regulation of derivatives. It’s little wonder that she lost this battle. Remember, at that time Alan Greenspan was still considered the miracle worker when it came to the economy, so if he said it was okay, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

    But I’ll take your argument one step further. Maybe the *reason* she was the head of the smallest, least powerful regulatory agency in the first place is because she was the girl. She just didn’t get the memo that she was supposed to smile and say thanks for the presidential apopintment, and not make waves. Another one of those inconvenient women with opinions.


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