As we reform our regulatory system at home, we must work with international arrangements like the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, the International Accounting Standards Board, and the Financial Stability Forum to address the same problems abroad. The goal must be ensuring that financial institutions around the world are subject to similar rules of the road – both to make the system stable, and to keep our financial institutions competitive.
Third, we need to streamline a framework of overlapping and competing regulatory agencies. Reshuffling bureaucracies should not be an end in itself. But the large, complex institutions that dominate the financial landscape do not fit into categories created decades ago. Different institutions compete in multiple markets – our regulatory system should not pretend otherwise. A streamlined system will provide better oversight, and be less costly for regulated institutions.
Fourth, we need to regulate institutions for what they do, not what they are. Over the last few years, commercial banks and thrift institutions were subject to guidelines on subprime mortgages that did not apply to mortgage brokers and companies. It makes no sense for the Fed to tighten mortgage guidelines for banks when two-thirds of subprime mortgages don’t originate from banks. This regulatory framework has failed to protect homeowners, and it is now clear that it made no sense for our financial system. When it comes to protecting the American people, it should make no difference what kind of institution they are dealing with.
Fifth, we must remain vigilant and crack down on trading activity that crosses the line to market manipulation. Reports have circulated in recent days that some traders may have intentionally spread rumors that Bear Stearns was in financial distress while making market bets against the company. The SEC should investigate and punish this kind of market manipulation, and report its conclusions to Congress.
Sixth, we need a process that identifies systemic risks to the financial system. Too often, we deal with threats to the financial system that weren’t anticipated by regulators. That’s why we should create a financial market oversight commission, which would meet regularly and provide advice to the President, Congress, and regulators on the state of our financial markets and the risks that face them. These expert views could help anticipate risks before they erupt into a crisis.
These six principles should guide the legal reforms needed to establish a 21st century regulatory system. But the change we need goes beyond laws and regulation – we need a shift in the cultures of our financial institutions and our regulatory agencies.
Financial institutions must do a better job at managing risks. There is something wrong when boards of directors or senior managers don’t understand the implications of the risks assumed by their own institutions. It’s time to realign incentives and compensation packages, so that both high level executives and employees better serve the interests of shareholders. And it’s time to confront the risks that come with excessive complexity. Even the best government regulation cannot fully substitute for internal risk management.
For supervisory agencies, oversight must keep pace with innovation. As the subprime crisis unfolded, tough questions about new and complex financial instruments were not asked. As a result, the public interest was not protected. We do American business – and the American people – no favors when we turn a blind eye to excessive leverage and dangerous risks.
Finally, the American people must be able to trust that their government is looking out for all of us – not just those who donate to political campaigns. I fought in the Senate for the most extensive ethics reform since Watergate. I have refused contributions from federal lobbyists and PACs. And I have laid out far-reaching plans that I intend to sign into law as President to bring transparency to government, and to end the revolving door between industries and the federal agencies that oversee them.
Once we deal with the immediate crisis in housing and strengthen the regulatory system governing our financial markets, our final task is to restore a sense of opportunity for all Americans.
The bedrock of our economic success is the American Dream. It's a dream shared in big cities and small towns; across races, regions and religions – that if you work hard, you can support a family; that if you get sick, there will be health care you can afford; that you can retire with the dignity and security and respect that you have earned; that your kids can get a good education, and young people can go to college even if they're not rich. That is our common hope across this country. That is the American Dream.
But today, for far too many Americans, this dream is slipping away. Wall Street has been gripped by increasing gloom over the last nine months. But for many American families, the economy has effectively been in recession for the past seven years. We have just come through the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that was not accompanied by a growth in incomes for typical families. Americans are working harder for less. Costs are rising, and it’s not clear that we’ll leave a legacy of opportunity to our children and grandchildren.
That’s why, throughout this campaign, I’ve put forward a series of proposals that will foster economic growth from the bottom up, and not just from the top down. That’s why the last time I spoke on the economy here in New York, I talked about the need to put the policies of George W. Bush behind us – policies that have essentially said to the American people: “you are on your own”; because we need to pursue policies that once again recognize that we are in this together.
This starts with providing a stimulus that will reach the most vulnerable Americans, including immediate relief to areas hardest hit by the housing crisis, and a significant extension of unemployment insurance for those who are out of work. If we can extend a hand to banks on Wall Street, we can extend a hand to Americans who are struggling.
Beyond these short term measures, as President I will be committed to putting the American Dream on a firmer footing. To reward work and make retirement secure, we’ll provide an income tax cut of up to $1000 for a working family, and eliminate income taxes altogether for any retiree making less than $50,000 per year. To make health care affordable for all Americans, we’ll cut costs and provide coverage to all who need it. To put more Americans to work, we’ll create millions of new Green Jobs and invest in rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure. To extend opportunity, we’ll invest in our schools and our teachers, and make college affordable for every American. And to ensure that America stays on the cutting edge, we’ll expand broadband access, expand funding for basic scientific research, and pass comprehensive immigration reform so that we continue to attract the best and the brightest to our shores.
I know that making these changes won’t be easy. I will not pretend that this will come without cost, though I have presented ways we can achieve these changes in a fiscally responsible way. I know that we’ll have to overcome our doubts and divisions and the determined opposition of powerful special interests before we can truly advance opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.