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Pro: Bill will stop the bleeding, but economy needs many more fixes to recover fully

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Thomas J. Donohue
October 11, 2008
EDITOR’S NOTE The writer is addressing the question, Is the financial recovery bill the right answer for America’s economy?

The current financial crisis poses the biggest threat to our economy since the Great Depression. Although it took a couple of bites at the apple, Congress finally passed a significant plan to prevent an immediate collapse, restore confidence and get credit flowing again to consumers and businesses.


There will be a time and place to get to the bottom of what went wrong, to learn from mistakes, to hold people accountable, and to modernize and where necessary strengthen the regulatory underpinnings of our capital markets. But first, we had to stop the bleeding. We had to save and try to stabilize the patient.


What we now have on the books is not a bailout but a package that could actually make money for taxpayers. Time will tell. But with credit freezing up all over the country, with markets plunging and with consumers and investors on the verge of panic, this kind of action was absolutely essential.


This crisis has exposed an old fault line in American politics—Wall Street vs. Main Street. What escapes many people is how dependent one is on the other. Both must succeed.


Pitting Wall Street vs. Main Street is wrongheaded and unproductive. They are inextricably connected. The funds that flow through Wall Street drive the activity on Main Street that creates jobs and generates income.


Businesses rely on the financial markets for their daily operations, for purchasing inventory and for writing paychecks. An inability to borrow money means businesses can’t expand production and create new jobs.


Families also rely heavily on financial markets for loans to buy everything from cars to furniture. They invest in 401(k)s and other financial instruments to help provide a secure retirement. A collapse of the financial markets would prevent individuals and businesses from getting the funds they need to consume and invest—the two things that drive economic growth. Without them, our standard of living declines and our economic future is imperiled.


One of the basic benefits of an integrated financial system is its ability to make credit available to both large and small entities in every geographic location. However, one of the fundamental drawbacks of such a system is its interconnectedness.


When a fundamental piece of that integrated system undergoes a complete meltdown, it is a problem for everyone. That is what is meant by systemic risk. That’s why it’s essential we do everything we can to save and strengthen a financial system that has benefited all of us—Main Street and Wall Street.


Once the dust has settled on the current crisis, there will be a strong desire to pass a flurry of new financial regulations, but solutions will not be derived from more or less regulation. They will come from smart regulation—regulation that does a better job of keeping up with the markets and makes financial transactions at all levels more transparent, without undermining innovation.


The cure is not to layer even more regulation on top of this creaky old system. We must establish a modern 21st-century regulatory framework that is efficient, innovative, fair and well-regulated.


Clearly, no system can prevent every market loss or economic downturn. But a nimble system can provide businesses and investors with the flexibility they need to compete in a global economy, while identifying potential problems early and dealing with them more quickly and efficiently—before they reach crisis proportions.


Success of the U.S. financial markets is as important to Main Street as it is to Wall Street. Every citizen, family, and business has a critical stake in ensuring that our nation is home to the strongest, fairest, and most efficient markets in the world.


Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (www.uschamber.com). Readers may write to him at U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1615 H St. NW, Washington D.C. 20062-2000.

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