Despite all the noise about financial reform, the shadow banking system that helped create the financial crisis would remain fundamentally unaltered by the legislation now pending in Congress. Indeed, leveraged entities such as private-equity, venture-capital, and hedge funds get only minor regulatory attention.
These barely regulated, nontransparent bastions of speculation propagated systemic risks beyond any that could be created by the banks themselves. Whether housed at banks, created by banks, or freestanding, they exist to enable speculative risk-taking hidden from either regulatory or market scrutiny while camouflaging layers of debt and enabling the complex-securitization deals that caused the financial collapse.
Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke stated the obvious during his March 10 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington: The global financial system contains too much risk and too little regulation. As the central figure in a multitrillion-dollar bailout exercise that has done little to contain, let alone reverse, the current economic crisis, Bernanke then strained to make some risk-fighting suggestions for future stabilization.
Last May, when Henry Paulson was nominated by President Bush to be treasury secretary, the Goldman Sachs chairman declared, "We must take steps to maintain our competitive edge in the world." Five months later, Paulson warmly embraced a private-sector Committee on Capital Markets Regulation, ostensibly to preserve America's role as the world's largest international capital market. In November, the 22-member committee -- self-described as independent, bipartisan, and consisting of America's corporate and financial leaders -- issued its first interim report.