In an interview on This Week with Jake Tapper, President Bill Clinton said he made a mistake listening to Bob Rubin and Larry Summers on derivatives, and said he should have tried to regulate them, despite Republican opposition:
TAPPER: One of the things that President Obama is pushing for is regulation of derivatives, and also with a thing called the Volcker rule, he’s trying to separate commercial banking interests from investment banking interests. These were things that were the opposite policies of Treasury Security Rubin and Summers at that time, do you think in retrospect they gave you bad advice on these issues?
CLINTON: Well, I think on the derivatives – before the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, it had been breached. There was already a total merger practically of commercial and investment banking, and really the main thing that the Glass-Steagall Act did was to give us some power to regulate it – the repeal. And also to give old fashion traditional banks in all over America the right to take an investment interest if they wanted to forestall bankruptcy. Sadly none of them did that. Mostly it was just the continued blurring of the lines, but only about a third of all the money loaned today is loaned through traditional banking channels and that was well underway before that legislation was signed. So I don’t feel the same way about that.
I think what happened was the SEC and the whole regulatory apparatus after I left office was just let go. I think if Arthur Levitt had been on the job at the SEC, my last SEC commissioner, an enormous percentage of what we’ve been through in the last eight or nine years would not have happened. I feel very strongly about it. I think it’s important to have vigorous oversight.
Now, on derivatives, yeah I think they were wrong and I think I was wrong to take it because the argument on derivatives was that these things are expensive and sophisticated and only a handful of investors will buy them and they don’t need any extra protection, and any extra transparency. The money they’re putting up guarantees them transparency. And the flaw in that argument was that first of all sometimes people with a lot of money make stupid decisions and make it without transparency.
And secondly, the most important flaw was even if less than 1 percent of the total investment community is involved in derivative exchanges, so much money was involved that if they went bad, they could affect a 100 percent of the investments, and indeed a 100 percent of the citizens in countries, not investors, and I was wrong about that. I’ve said that all along. Now, I think if I had tried to regulate them because the Republicans were the majority in the Congress, they would have stopped it. But I wish I should have been caught trying. I mean, that was a mistake I made.
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