During the campaign, Donald Trump liked to brag that, unlike his rivals, he wasn't in Wall Street's pocket. And you can tell that by the fact that he's stocked his cabinet with Goldman Sachs alums, has signaled that he wants to dismantle the post-crisis rules reining in banks, and will now allow brokers to go back to giving their clients deliberately bad advice.
This is Wall Street's kind of populism.
That last part, what's known as the fiduciary rule, was something the Obama administration only changed in the last year. Up until then, you see, it was perfectly legal for your financial adviser to give you advice that wasn't in your best interest, but was in theirs. In other words, to push you into products that wouldn't increase your returns, but would increase your fees. Wall Street, of course, didn't take too kindly to a rule that the administration estimated would cost them $17 billion a year in lost revenue. They claimed that the compliance costs alone would make their advice so expensive that middle-class families would no longer be able to afford it. Or, in the case of Trump advisor Anthony Scaramucci, that this was like the 1857 Dred Scott decision—which held that black people were not citizens—since telling brokers that they couldn't give bad advice was allegedly just a way for the government to "discriminate against a class of people who they deem to be adding no value."
But no more. The Trump administration is going to let financial advisers go back to ripping you off. "We think it is a bad rule," National Economic Council Director and former Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn explained, because it's "like only putting healthy food on the menu" due to the fact that "unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn't eat it because you might die younger." So, to extend that analogy, your retirement advisor is now free to tell you to eat the financial equivalent of junk food that might give you a heart attack, but will definitely give him a bigger bonus. Problem solved?
Well, only if you think the problem was that Wall Street couldn't do business the way it did before it crashed the economy. Which, to be honest, seems like a pretty good description of the Trump administration's thinking. It's not just that they want to let your broker give you whatever advice is best for their own bottom line. It's that they want to let bankers do whatever they think is best for their own bonuses, post-crisis rules be damned—or, more accurately, repealed. Trump issued an executive order, which is admittedly more a signal of intent than actual policy, that would try to change as many of the Dodd-Frank financial reform rules as they could without Congressional approval. Beyond that, Cohn said they'd look at getting rid of the rules that big banks have to plan for how they'd go through bankruptcy without a bailout, try to replace the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with someone who'd presumably be less aggressive going after predatory lending, and potentially free up non-banks like AIG, which, you might remember, played a starring role in the 2008 crisis, from the tougher oversight and capital requirements put in place in recent years.
In short, they want the financial system to be able to take more and bigger risks. They say we need to do this to get banks lending and the economy moving again, but it sets up an obvious question: why wouldn't going back, for the most part, to the way things were before the crisis lead to another one?
They don't say. They're too busy talking about how they're sticking up for the "forgotten man"—you know, the Wall Street trader who used to get a million dollar bonus, but has had to get by with just a couple hundred thousand lately. Call it Upper East Side populism.