AP EXPLAINS: GOP, Dems. look to revive Depression bank law

July 27, 2016 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — Well at least the Democrats and the Republicans agree on something at their conventions: They both want to revive a Depression-era bank law that was abolished more than 15 years ago.

The platforms of both parties call for the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act, a law that would lead to the breakup of major U.S. banks like JPMorgan Chase in order to separate investment banking from commercial banking.

Here’s a look at what Glass-Steagall is, why the parties want to reinstate it — and why that’s unlikely to happen:



The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 was passed in the wake of the stock market crash and the thousands of banks failures that led to the Great Depression.

Among its many provisions, the law segregated the banking industry into commercial banks, or banks that take deposits and operate branches, and investment banks, or those that trade and underwrite stocks and bonds and advise companies. It also separated out insurance.



As banks became larger and more complicated over decades, regulators eased bank requirements under the law. Commercial banks started offering services that traditionally had been associated with investment banks. By the late 1990s, some historians and economists argued that Glass-Steagall was effectively dead.

A GOP-led Congress passed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999 repealing the separation provision. President Bill Clinton signed it into law.



After the 2008 financial crisis, anger at Wall Street jelled into an argument that Glass-Steagall could have mitigated or prevented the crisis by keeping financial powerhouses from growing too large.

Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat well-loved by the anti-Wall Street crowd, advocated for the return of Glass-Steagall. That position was also adopted in Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, where he forcefully argued for the breakup of big banks.

In his speech Monday to the Democratic National Convention, Sanders called for the passage of a “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.”



It’s unlikely Glass-Steagall would have stopped the financial crisis.

The first institutions that failed were mortgage lenders. That was followed by Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and the near-collapse of Merrill Lynch, three traditional investment banks that did not have commercial banking operations. Other banks that failed, like Washington Mutual and Wachovia, were commercial institutions that collapsed because of bad mortgage lending practices.



By adopting what is traditionally a Democratic position, Republicans may hope to appeal to Sanders supporters who don’t like Hillary Clinton. While restoring Glass-Steagall is in the Democratic platform, Clinton does not argue for the return of Glass-Steagall.

The platforms are of limited importance. They are mostly symbolic and do not bind the president or lawmakers. And there is little interest in Congress to bring back Glass-Steagall, so prospects for a revival would appear dim.