So says Peter Wallison in today's WSJ:
The GLBA's [Gramm-Leach-Bliley] "repeal" of a portion of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 is said to have somehow contributed to the current financial meltdown. Nonsense.
Adopted early in the New Deal, the Glass-Steagall Act separated investment and commercial banking. It prohibited commercial banks from underwriting or dealing in securities, and from affiliating with firms that engaged principally in that business. The GLBA repealed only the second of these provisions, allowing banks and securities firms to be affiliated under the same holding company. Thus J.P. Morgan Chase was able to acquire Bear Stearns, and Bank of America could acquire Merrill Lynch. Nevertheless, banks themselves were and still are prohibited from underwriting or dealing in securities.
Allowing banks and securities firms to affiliate under the same holding company has had no effect on the current financial crisis. None of the investment banks that have gotten into trouble -- Bear, Lehman, Merrill, Goldman or Morgan Stanley -- were affiliated with commercial banks. And none of the banks that have major securities affiliates -- Citibank, Bank of America, and J.P. Morgan Chase, to name a few -- are among the banks that have thus far encountered serious financial problems. Indeed, the ability of these banks to diversify into nonbanking activities has been a source of their strength.
Most important, the banks that have succumbed to financial problems -- Wachovia, Washington Mutual and IndyMac, among others -- got into trouble by investing in bad mortgages or mortgage-backed securities, not because of the securities activities of an affiliated securities firm. Federal Reserve regulations significantly restrict transactions between banks and their affiliates.