Why Wall Street Reform is Stuck in Reverse.

At a conference in London, a Goldman Sachs international adviser, Brian Griffiths, praised inequality. As his company was putting aside $16.7 billion for compensation and benefits in the first nine months of 2009 -- up 46 percent from a year earlier -- Griffiths told us not to worry. “We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” he said.

Eight months ago it looked as if Wall Street was in store for strong financial regulation -- oversight of derivative trading, pay linked to long-term performance, much higher capital requirements, an end to conflicts of interest (i.e. credit rating agencies being paid by the very companies whose securities they're rating), and even resurrection of the Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial from investment banking.

Now, Congress is struggling to produce the tiniest shards of regulation that would at least give the appearance of doing something to rein in the Street.

What happened in the intervening months? Two things. First, America's attention wandered. We're now focusing on health care, Letterman's frolics, and little boys who hide in attics rather than balloons. And, hey, the Dow is up again. The politicians who put off Wall Street regulation for 10 months knew that the public would probably lose interest by now.

Second, the banks keep paying off Congress. The big guns on Wall Street increased their political donations last month after increasing their lobbying muscle. Morgan Stanley's Political Action Committee donated $110,000 in September, for example, of which Democrats got $43,000.

More, after the jump.

--Robert Reich

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