Introduction of Better Markets Reports by Dennis Kelleher

 

Dodd-Frank Act 10th Anniversary Conference

Tuesday, July 21, 2020, 1-5 p.m.

Transcript of Video

 

DENNIS KELLEHER:

Not everyone remembers—or wants to remember—many of the key points President Obama just made. For example, he said “passing and implementing this law was not easy,” which could win an award for extreme understatement. And, he was certainly right when he said that he and his administration were “met every step of the way by entrenched and well-funded opposition who tried to block any reform at all.”

 

After all, that’s why it took 18 arduous months to get the Dodd-Frank Act passed. For the same reasons, that’s also why it required the next six years of the Obama administration—from 2010 through 2016—to make sure that the law became a reality and protected America’s families, taxpayers, consumers, investors and Main Street businesses.

 

It’s difficult today to remember much if not most of those struggles. There are lots of reasons for that. First, needless to say, there’s a lot going on today, some of which I’ll discuss in a moment. Second, the Great Recession was a searing experience for millions of American families who lost their jobs, savings, homes and so much more. No one wants to remember such awful events. Third, the financial crash was 12 years ago, and the Dodd-Frank Act was 10 years ago. Many people simply have no actual memory of either event.

 

But there’s also another, very big reason for people not remembering: A fortune has been spent on advertising, lobbying and campaign contributions to erase the memory and re-write the history of what happened before the 2008 crash, who was responsible for it, the trillions in bailouts, the damage it caused, and why the Dodd-Frank financial reform law was—and remains—so important to the American people.

 

That’s why today Better Markets is releasing two major reports: think of them as memory aides and an historical counter-narrative to those who try to substitute self-serving spin for facts. The first report is “President Obama in His Own Words: Making Financial Reform a Reality 2009-2016” and the second is “Ten Years of Dodd-Frank & Financial Reform: Obama’s Successes, Trump’s Rollbacks & Future Challenges.”

 

I will provide a brief overview of those reports in a minute, but first I want to address some of the historic events going on in our country today. As the country faces social upheaval, political unrest and economic turmoil, one might ask, is it really important to discuss and reflect on the Dodd-Frank Act, a 10-year-old law? I would say yes because the Dodd-Frank Act and “financial stability,” “financial reform,” and “financial rules” more broadly can be the means to achieve some of the most important social, political and economic goals facing the country.

 

Those goals include a strong and stable financial system that:

  • Reduces inequality while creating economic security, opportunity and widespread prosperity for all people,

  • Supports the productive economy,

  • Produces sustained, durable and broad-based economic growth, and

  • Protects investors, consumers, workers and the environment.

  • Those goals, however, are often undermined by an economic system that does not work for the vast majority of Americans because, among other things, the financial system is too often a wealth-extraction mechanism for the few rather than a wealth-creation system for the many.

 

This is the result of too many—certainly not all, but too many —in the financial sector using their economic power to buy political power, which they then use throughout the policymaking process to protect and increase their economic power, usually at the expense of everyone else, including their competitors and others in the financial sector.

 

Making all of that worse, the pandemic, and the economic crisis it has caused, have exposed the structural inequalities embedded in our economic and financial systems and how they egregiously and disproportionately impact Black Americans and people of color. The financial system and the financial industry have played a significant role in creating and perpetuating those racial inequities.

 

If Black Lives Matter—and they do—then we need economic and financial systems that truly work for everyone and that lifts everyone up. It is critical to remember that the economy—who it works for and who it does not—is not predetermined. It is shaped by people, and it is often rigged by those seeking to protect their own interests. Their actions to maximize their profits; protect and increase their wealth; and maintain their positions of privilege, power and influence profoundly impact who gets the benefits of our economic and financial systems—and who does not.

 

The Dodd-Frank Act could not have and did not address all of those issues. But it was intended to create and support guardrails, gatekeepers and guard-dogs that could force the financial sector to better serve society. That means supporting the real, productive economy that generates jobs and broad-based economic growth, rather than enriching the few, destabilizing the financial system, draining public resources for bailouts, and ripping off consumers and investors. That’s why what’s at stake in the Dodd-Frank Act—and in financial stability, reform and properly implemented rules more broadly—is nothing less than enabling more Americans to attain the American Dream and improve their standard of living, quality of life and peace of mind.

 

That’s why it’s relevant and important today. That’s what President Obama and his team fought for 8 years to achieve, which comes through loud and clear if you go back and read what the President said during that time. It’s all in the report we are releasing today: “President Obama in His Own Words: Making Financial Reform a Reality 2009-2016.” In it, you’ll see that, just a month after being sworn in, the President laid out his seven core goals for financial reform, which he then relentlessly pursued. He correctly diagnosed the problems: “excess greed, excess compensation, excess risk-taking have all made us vulnerable and left us holding the bag….  The business models that created a lot of paper wealth but not real wealth in this country and have now resulted in crisis can't be the model for economic growth going forward.” That’s why he said, “our goal [is] to restore markets in which we reward hard work and responsibility and innovation, not recklessness and greed.”

 

He was very clear when he said, “we believe in people getting rich based on performance and what they add in terms of value and the products and services that they create,” which required “building a new foundation for sustained economic growth.”

 

Importantly, he also knew that “putting smart regulations in place—oversight, transparency, accountability—those things are not anti-market, they're pro-market.”

 

While they were unquestionably pro-market, they nonetheless threatened the narrow, special interests of Wall Street’s biggest firms’ ways of doing business, which were incredibly lucrative for them, even as they were dangerous and costly for everyone else in America. To protect their profits and bonuses, they decided to ferociously fight financial reform.

 

The opposition was so intense that the President declared, in January of 2010, that “if these folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have.” And, they fought and fought until the Dodd-Frank Act was signed into law ten years ago today.

 

Now, the Dodd-Frank Act is often mischaracterized as a partisan bill, particularly by those who continue to seek to discredit financial reform. That is simply not true. Yes, it was a largely partisan vote, but it was a bipartisan bill in many of the key substantive provisions. We detail those facts in the second Report that Better Markets is releasing today: “Ten Years of Dodd-Frank & Financial Reform: Obama’s Successes, Trump’s Rollbacks & Future Challenges.”

 

That report begins with the history of what lead to the crash, including dangerous deregulation and financialization, and then discusses the major provisions of the law itself, including the extensive involvement of Congressional Republicans. The Report reviews what happened under President Obama and then President Trump, concluding with a look at what comes next for financial reform, including beyond Dodd-Frank.

 

Of course, the financial reform law, like most laws, was not self-executing. Like the financial industry and financial system, the law was big, complex and long.  It required numerous financial regulatory agencies to consider, propose, finalize, implement, interpret and ultimately enforce hundreds of rules. Getting that substantially done took the last six years of President Obama’s administration.

 

Unfortunately, the financial industry viewed this as an opportunity to win in the regulatory process what it had lost in the legislative process. In fact, one of Wall Street’s most powerful Washington lobbyists remarked when the bill was passed after almost two years that it was merely “half time.” Thus, Wall Street shifted its army of lawyers and lobbyists from the Congressional arena to the financial regulatory agencies and the courts.

 

It was a battle almost every day at one agency or another or in one court or another. And, of course, Wall Street continued to use its allies in Congress to attack the law relentlessly. The Obama administration and public interest groups like Better Markets pushed back just as hard and, by the end of President Obama’s term—as detailed in the Report—the most dangerous and unreasonable risks in the financial system had been significantly reduced, making a financial crash much less likely, due to rules which, in summary:

  • Increased capital and liquidity, and required the use of stress testing to measure capital and liquidity adequacy,

  • Regulated derivatives,

  • Required living wills and liquidation authority,

  • Reduced short term funding and counterparty exposure,

  • Protected financial consumers and investors,

  • Attacked predatory conduct,

  • Prohibited proprietary trading by taxpayer-backed banks, and

  • Enhanced supervision and regulation of systemically important banks and nonbanks.

 

The Dodd-Frank Act also pushed the financial sector more in the direction of serving its socially useful purpose, justifying its social costs, and earning its taxpayer backing by refocusing the largest, most dangerous banks back to traditional banking activities and away from trading and socially useless activities. The point was to get banks back into banking.

 

The report also details the deregulatory actions that the Trump administration has begun or completed, urged on by Wall Street’s biggest banks and too many in the financial industry more broadly, including:

  • Lowering capital and liquidity at banks,

  • Weakening stress testing and living wills,

  • Allowing more proprietary trading,

  • Enabling more unregulated derivatives dealing,

  • Decreasing margin for derivatives transactions,

  • Rolling back consumer and investor protections,

  • Reducing prudential regulation of systemically important banks,

  • Neutering the regulation of systemically significant nonbanks and the shadow banking system,

  • Defunding research and monitoring of the financial industry, and

  • Stopping enforcement of laws, if not actually siding with the predators.

 

But, as detailed in the report and made clear from the events over the last several decades, it simply cannot reasonably be disputed that strong, robust, effective markets—free markets—require equally strong, robust, and effective rules that:

  • Require transparency, oversight and accountability,

  • Establish a level playing field,

  • Enable competition,

  • Enforce a baseline of fair dealing,

  • Police market participants,

  • Engender investor and consumer confidence,

  • Reduce income and wealth inequality, and

  • Ultimately lead to a balanced financial system that fuels the productive economy and raises the standard of living of everyone.

 

Both reports are available on our website, www.bettermarkets.com, as well as at the microsite for this event. We hope you will read them.

> Back to Homepage

© 2020 by Better Markets Inc. Proudly created with Wix.com