How They Saw It, What They Said

Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, left, and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said Born's agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, did not have the legal authority to regulate derivatives.
Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, left, and Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said Born's agency, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, did not have the legal authority to regulate derivatives. (By Ron Edmonds -- Associated Press)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Brooksley E. Born

Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman, 1996-99

Arrived at the CFTC determined to get her arms around the risk posed by the rapid growth of derivatives, so called because they derive their value from something else such as bonds and currency rates. Soon after taking office, she warned: "The size and nature of this market create a potential for systemic risk to the nation's financial markets that requires vigilance by federal regulatory authorities."

Alan Greenspan

Federal Reserve chair man , 1987-2006

Opposed regulation of derivatives on free-market grounds. Thought the CFTC had no legal authority to do so, questioned whether derivatives were futures. Testified to Congress in 1998: "Regulation of derivatives transactions that are privately negotiated by professionals is unnecessary. Regulation that serves no useful purpose hinders the efficiency of markets to enlarge standards of living."

Robert E. Rubin

Secretary of the Treasury, 1995-99

Agreed with Greenspan that the CFTC had no legal authority to regulate derivatives. Voiced qualms about their risk and rapid growth, but saw no political will to take action. Wrote in a 2003 book, "Derivatives, with leverage limits that vary from little to none at all, should be subject to comprehensive and higher margin requirements," requiring dealers to put up more capital to back the swaps. "But that will almost surely not happen, absent a crisis."

Arthur Levitt Jr.

Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, 1993-2001

Like Greenspan and Rubin, questioned CFTC jurisdiction over derivatives and feared a CFTC regulatory effort would cast doubt over the legality of existing derivatives contracts. Now says, "I guess if I had to do it over again, I certainly would have pushed for some way to give greater transparency to products which turned out to be injurious to our markets.


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