In the enacting of the financial reform law, a group of out-of-control, too-big-to-regulate, too-big-to-stand-up-to creatures of the 1994 interstate banking/branching mistake bulldozed their way to victory through the ultimate method of consolidation - that of political muscle.
We ain't seen nothin' yet. The worst is yet to come. Historians will make note of the fact that only a matter of months kept the worst banking bill of the 20th century from being the worst banking bill of the 21st.
Members of Congress who voted for this banking bill were not all smart enough to realize they were casting a bad vote. But most of them were.
Their options were to cast a bad vote and be able to count on major financial support from major financial sources in reelection campaigns (without worrying that those sources would enrich opponents' campaigns) or to vote against the bill and keep a clear conscience for campaigning on a record of right votes for the right reasons - the kinds of reasons that don't have to be twisted to be accepted.
The delay in calling the bill up for final passage was to give those in charge of the master scheme time to develop the official spin on legislation that presented black as being white, up as down, and most importantly, bad as good. Bad votes on public interest issues have, in the past, resulted in early retirements for an inordinate number of incumbents.
Contrary to how the outcome was spun, competition will diminish. There will be fewer, not more, options for the consumer. Their fees will be higher, not lower. Interest on loans will be higher, not lower. Rates paid on investment instruments will be lower, not higher. Jobs in the industry and service levels will decline. Combining investment and commercial banking means small businesses will have fewer loan sources without competitive improvements.
The half dozen or so largest banks could well end up controlling all banking, insurance, and brokerage business in the entire nation. They got the legislation they wanted, arguing that their hands were tied, that they were helpless to compete with insurance companies and investment bankers and against banks from other nations.
Meanwhile, in a tiny burg in West Virginia, there was a bank robbery that was observed by examiners of the Comptroller of the Currency for a year or more resulting in recriminations between the Comptroller's Office and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. about why nothing was done about it before the bank failed.
In Moscow, mobsters decided to "take their business elsewhere" when local banks showed a lack of interest in doing business. What is one supposed to do when one needs to open an account to handle the ill-gotten proceeds of drugs, racketeering, the protection business, prostitution, and embezzlement? Reliable sources say Bank of New York filled the breach.
One fellow who got very lucky was former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. Top dog at Treasury - and the comptroller's boss - while the West Virginia heist was going on, he has been hired by Citigroup. On the basis of what we know about First National Bank of Keystone, W.Va., what might he do if John Reed and Sandy Weill came to tell him the company is in trouble?
First, hire security guards to make sure the examiners don't stick their nose into the bank's business.
Second, find a heavy equipment company that is in hock to the bank and offer a job they can't refuse: Go to a top exec's backyard to dig a big, deep trench into which will be dumped any incriminating files that might be of interest to examiners.
Third, if there continues to be a net outflow of assets, blow the whistle on your own bank while it is still too big to fail. And don't worry about the consequences. No big bank has been allowed to fail yet, and no head of one that has gone belly-up has ever been unceremoniously dumped.
After all, isn't that why we have a bank insurance fund? Mr. McCrady, a retired trade association executive and long-time community banking advocate, lives in Eden Prarie, Minn.