I am encouraged, so far, by President-elect Bill Clinton, whose pre- and post-election utterances have begun to bring us out of the Bush doldrums.
As part of his economic recovery plan, Mr. Clinton is prepared to tout a network of community development banks modeled after community-based business lenders like South Shore Bank in Chicago.
This is the sort of "new start" that will have strong support among the unemployed and those with compassion for the unemployed.
Understanding the seriousness of being out of work is easier for those among us who have suffered that indignity. The sting never completely goes away.
Mr. Clinton has also expressed concern about regulatory overkill and the negative impact it has on lending. The management of the regulatory process has been poor, calling into question the competence of high-level Bush administration appointees and the appropriateness of their tilt toward policies that favor the biggest commercial and investment banks.
It became all too common for regulators and professional lobbyists to be seen marching to the beat of the same drummer, pushing a mutually desired agenda. Any ethical reform measure that fails to address the need to restore integrity, trust, and confidence in our regulatory agencies must be sent back for more work.
If the office of an appointed regulator is used to grant a competitive advantage to favored parties, it must be treated as more than a serious ethical breach. It deserves to be treated as a chargeable crime.
Sticking to Lending
Experts have pointed in every direction, trying to assign blame for today's banking problems. The biggest banks want us to believe commercial paper has rendered commercial banking unprofitable. They say they need freedom to branch and the right to own investment banking, brokerage, and insurance companies in order to regain their lost profitability.
The fact remains that commercial bankers who have not strayed from their traditional turf are still prosperous. They continued to lend; they didn't gorge themselves on petrodollars, and they didn't go where they weren't wanted.
For community banks' protection, current levels of deposit insurance must be maintained. The reason is compelling: When push comes to shove, the Federal Reserve will adjust banking's cost of money to shelter large banks from the danger of failing.
Power Play by Big Banks
Attempts to reduce insurance coverage must be seen for what they are - a play by poorly managed, highly concentrated, Fed-sheltered money-center and regional banks to eliminate competition.
In common with all his predecessors, Bill Clinton has never called me for advice. But if I did hear from him, here is what I would say:
* Push the community development bank idea. It will work.
* Take immediate steps to employ the unemployed. It helps us all.
* Put a stop to regulation by legislation. It's a cop-out.
* Regulators should regulate, not legislate. Ban regulator lobbying.
* Minimize new regulations, and ease old ones.
* Get banks back into lending.
* Admit that the largest banks will never be allowed to fail.
* Keep deposit insurance, and consider eliminating insurance premiums on federally guaranteed mortgages.
* Let Wall Street interests advise on but not decide our financial course.
Gotta go - my phone's ringing.