Some have argued that deregulation of the financial services industry, and the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 in particular, caused or contributed to the current financial crisis. In a recent iterview, BuisnessWeek asked President Bill Clinton, who signed Gramm-Leach-Bliley into law, whether he shared that view.
BW:Mr. President, in 1999 you signed a bill essentially rolling back Glass-Steagall and deregulating banking. In light of what has gone on, do you regret that decision?[Hat tip: WSJ.]
Clinton:No, because it wasn't a complete deregulation at all. We still have heavy regulations and insurance on bank deposits, requirements on banks for capital and for disclosure. I thought at the time that it might lead to more stable investments and a reduced pressure on Wall Street to produce quarterly profits that were always bigger than the previous quarter. But I have really thought about this a lot. I don't see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis. Indeed, one of the things that has helped stabilize the current situation as much as it has is the purchase of Merrill Lynch (MER) by Bank of America (BAC), which was much smoother than it would have been if I hadn't signed that bill.
BW:Phil Gramm, who was then the head of the Senate Banking Committee and until recently a close economic adviser of Senator McCain, was a fierce proponent of banking deregulation. Did he sell you a bill of goods?
Clinton: Not on this bill I don't think he did. You know, Phil Gramm and I disagreed on a lot of things, but he can't possibly be wrong about everything. On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I'd be glad to look at the evidence. But I can't blame [the Republicans]. This wasn't something they forced me into. I really believed that given the level of oversight of banks and their ability to have more patient capital, if you made it possible for [commercial banks] to go into the investment banking business as Continental European investment banks could always do, that it might give us a more stable source of long-term investment.