Speaking at a roundtable discussion on Tuesday, former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson recounted the lessons they learned in the wake of the crisis, and where they fear Americans may have forgotten them.
“One of the most powerful lessons from this crisis should be that you want to work very hard to make sure that your defenses are robust,” Geithner was quoted by AP as telling the audience. “We let the financial system outgrow the protections we put in place in the Great Depressions and... made the system very fragile and vulnerable to panic.”
Loose banking regulations and excessive risk-taking helped plunge the U.S. into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Nearly 9 million people were thrown out of work following the crash 10 years ago, and the slowness of the subsequent recovery, as well as exacerbated income inequality, led to widespread discontent that’s manifested itself in a broad populist backlash.
Current efforts are underway by Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank Act, which beefed up government regulation of the financial sector to close loopholes that enabled banks to engage in such risky behavior.
The former economic officials said that the changes so far made sense, like exempting some smaller banks from the law’s strictest requirements. Post-crisis reforms also strengthened the banking system and made it easier for big banks to be shut down rather than needing government bailouts.
But they cautioned against getting carried away with deregulation, and Geithner expressed concern that the emergency powers they were able to draw on in 2008 are “somewhat weaker” today.