As he attempted to do with health-care reform last week, the president is trying to breathe new life into financial reform. He's using the anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers and the near-death experience of the rest of the Street, culminating with a $600 billion taxpayer financed bailout, to summon the political will for change. Yet the prospects seem dubious. As with health-care reform, he has stood on the sidelines for months and allowed vested interests to frame the debate. Nor has he come up with a sufficiently bold or coherent set of reforms likely to change the way the Street does business, even if enacted.
Let's be clear: The Street today is up to the same tricks it was playing before its near-death experience. Derivatives, derivatives of derivatives, fancy-dance trading schemes, high-risk bets. “Our model really never changed, we’ve said very consistently that our business model remained the same,” says Goldman Sach's chief financial officer.
The only difference now is that the Street's biggest banks know for sure they'll be bailed out by the federal government if their bets turn sour -- which means even bigger bets and bigger bucks.
Meanwhile, the banks' gigantic pile of non-performing loans is also growing bigger, as more and more jobless Americans can't pay their mortgages, credit card bills, and car loans. So forget any new lending to Main Street. Small businesses still can't get loans. Even credit-worthy borrowers are having a hard time getting new mortgages.
More after the jump.