What the Financial Services Industry Puts Together Let No Person Put Asunder: How the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Contributed to the 2008-2009 American Capital Markets Crisis

By Grant, Joseph Karl | Albany Law Review, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

What the Financial Services Industry Puts Together Let No Person Put Asunder: How the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Contributed to the 2008-2009 American Capital Markets Crisis


Grant, Joseph Karl, Albany Law Review


ABSTRACT

The current subprime financial crisis has shaped up to be one of the most dramatic and impactful events in the past few decades. No one particular factor fully accounts for why the American economy suffered setbacks unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some of the roots of the current financial crisis started taking hold in 1999 when Congress passed the Financial Services Modernization Act, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Gramm-Leach-Bliley brought about sweeping deregulation to the financial services industry. In essence, Gramm-Leach-Bliley swept away almost six decades of financial services regulation precipitated by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Gramm-Leach-Bliley explicitly repealed the Glass-Steagall Act passed in the 1930s to stamp out much of the evil that caused the Great Depression.

The year 2009 is a momentous year: it marks the ten-year anniversary of the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. This article posits that passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, the Republican push for deregulation, and--most importantly--repeal of the firewalls established by the Glass-Steagall Act accounts for why America is in the midst of one of the worst and deepest financial crises in our nation's history. This article examines the Senate debates leading up to the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Interestingly, a number of politicians issued powerful criticisms, predictions, and forecasts around the time of the passage of Gramm-Leach-Bliley that should have been taken seriously. Most notably, Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Russell Feingold (D-WI), and Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) stood out as vocal critics.

To gain further insight into the reach and effect of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, this article examines the deregulatory effect of the legislation on two corporations in particular: Citigroup and Bank of America. This article then examines whether firewalls are necessary in the financial services industry. As the Troubled Asset Relief Program ("TARP") has demonstrated, some institutions are "too big to fail." This article explores what a return to Glass-Steagall regulation would do to prevent the "too big to fail" problem. Alternatively, it explores a three-tiered approach to financial services industry regulation. Finally, it explores whether we should let financial service industry institutions fail from a market efficiency standpoint, in the absence of strong regulation in the form of firewalls or stringent regulatory oversight.

I.    INTRODUCTION
II.   THE LEGISLATIVE LANDSCAPE FOR BANKS IN AMERICA
      1933-1999: A BRIEF HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
III.  GLASS-STEAGALL: ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST
      MAINTENANCE AND REPEAL LEADING UP TO PASSAGE OF
      GRAMM-LEACH-BLILEY
IV.   GRAMM-LEACH-BLILEY: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE
      LEGISLATIVE DEBATE AND RECORD IN THE SENATE
      A. Gramm-Leach-Bliley: The Legislative Journey to
         Passage
      B. Storm Clouds Gathering: Senatorial Expressions of
         Caution and Concern
V.    BANKING CASE STUDIES: A LOOK AT THE IMPACT OF GRAMM-LEACH-BLILEY
      ON CITIGROUP AND BANK OF AMERICA
      A. Citigroup: The Rise and Fall of an American Banking
         Giant
      B. Bank of America: A Failure All Too Big
VI.   FOR SAFETY'S AND SOUNDNESS'S SAKE: GLASS-STEAGALL'S
      REINCARNATION: THE CASE FOR "RE-REGULATION".
VII.  ALTERNATIVES TO THE REINCARNATION OF GLASS-STEAGALL
      AND "RE-REGULATION".
      A. Is Stringent Regulation of "Too Big to Fail" Financial
         Institutions Needed?: A Three-Tiered Regulatory
         Approach
      B. Too Big to Fail?: An Examination of Market Efficiency
         and Moral Hazard
VIII. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The 2008-2009 financial/economic market crisis has staggered the United States capital markets, and has stunned and set back the global economy. Unlike some watershed events in our nation's and the world's history, the capital markets meltdown will not just end on a date certain in 2009: it promises to have a lasting impact on our lives for years and perhaps generations to come. …

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