America

Obama Seeks 'Responsible' Wall St.; Good Luck With That

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In the brief speech President Barack Obama made at the signing ceremony for the landmark financial industry overhaul legislation, he mostly went over territory familiar to anyone who has listened to him on the subject for months.

The new law would make it more difficult for the kind of recession sparked by a bursting bubble tied to financial speculation to occur, Obama said. It will bring transparency to some of the riskier bank practices and give consumers more power and information, he said.

It was a speech meant to instill confidence at a time when that is still not in abundant supply with many Americans. 

But if you listened closely, you could hear the president warn that no one should think that future crises were now repealed with the signing of the legislation. There's no stopping aspects of human nature, behaviors like greed for instance.

He said:

... No law can force anybody to be responsible; it is still incumbent on those on Wall Street to heed the lessons of this crisis in how they conduct business.

Translation: The president and congressional Democrats may have put up more guardrails, but Wall Street's masters of the Universe could still recklessly accelerate their Maseratis right over them if they wanted to, taking the rest of us with them.

If the president is counting on Wall Street to act responsibly over the long term, he may want to consult no less an expert than former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan.

Greenspan famously said in October 2008 that he had mistakenly believed for four decades that banks wouldn't take on too much risk because of their duties to the survival of their institutions and their shareholders.

Meanwhile, after more than a year of mining the Wall Street versus Main Street trope in order to tap into populist anger at investment bankers the president, who appears to seem most comfortable when he serves as a bridge between adversaries, made the point that Main Street runs into Wall Street.

OBAMA: Ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street.  We rise or fall together as one nation.  So these reforms will help lift our economy and lead all of us to a stronger, more prosperous future, and I am honored to sign them into law.

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