Robert B. Reich, a co-founder of The American Prospect, is a Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His website can be found here and his blog can be found here.
Consumer spending is 70 percent of the American economy, so if consumers can’t or won’t spend we’re back in the soup. Yet the government just reported that consumer spending stalled in April – the first month consumers didn’t up their spending since last September. Instead, consumers boosted their savings, probably because they’re worried about the slow pace of job growth (next Friday’s report will likely show gains, but the number will continue to be tiny compared to the overall ranks of the jobless), as well as a lackluster “recovery.” They’re also still carrying enormous debt burdens. One in four homeowners is still underwater. And median wages are going nowhere.
Who could be opposed to closing a tax loophole that allows hedge-fund and private-equity managers to treat their earnings as capital gains – and pay a rate of only 15 percent rather than the 35 percent applied to ordinary income?
Answer: Some of the nation’s most prominent and wealthiest private asset managers, such as Paul Allen and Henry Kravis, who, along with hordes of lobbyists, are determined to keep the loophole wide open.
The House has already tried three times to close it only to have the Senate cave in because of campaign donations from these and other financiers who benefit from it.
The real scandal isn’t Wall Street’s unlawful acts (i.e., Securities and Exchange Commission vs. Goldman Sachs) but legal acts that have reaped the Street a bonanza and nearly sunk the rest of us.
It’s good we finally have an SEC on which three out of five commissioners are willing to enforce laws already on the books. Hopefully other enforcement agencies (CFTC, FDIC, and the Fed) will follow suit. But we also need to make illegal the recklessness that’s now legal.
The Dodd bill now being considered in the Senate is a step in the right direction. Yet despite the hype, it’s a very modest step. It leaves out three of the most important things necessary to prevent a repeat of the Wall Street meltdown. These steps, after the jump.
The best way for Senate Dems and the White House to respond to the Republican charge that the Dem plan for financial reform doesn’t go far enough to prevent another bailout is to call their bluff — and simultaneously do what’s necessary to avoid another bailout: Cap the size of big banks, as the UK is close to doing for its big banks.
The so-called resolution mechanism the Dems are pushing to wind down any big bank that gets into trouble is a step in the right direction. But it won’t work if two or more giant banks are endangered at the same time — which is likely to be the case when the next crisis occurs because every big bank uses whatever profitable financial ploys every other bank uses (as they did in the run-up to the crash of 2008).
A fight is brewing in Washington – or, at the least, it ought to be brewing – over whether to put limits on the size of financial entities in order that none becomes “too big to fail” in a future financial crisis.
Some background: The big banks that got federal bailouts, as well as their supporters in the administration and on the Hill, repeatedly say much of the cost of the giant taxpayer-funded bailout has already been repaid to the federal government by the banks that were bailed out. Hence, the actual cost of the bailout, they argue, is a small fraction of the $700 billion Congress appropriated.