I don’t think the Glass-Steagall bill made any contribution to the financial crisis at all for a simple reason. The difference in investment banks and commercial banks had been abolished in the 1980s by rulings of the Federal Reserve. So the main practical impact of my signing that bill was to allow banks to offer certain kinds of insurance, which played no role in the financial crisis. That wasn’t a big problem.
There was another bill that I think did make a contribution to the crash that I wish I had vetoed for symbolic reasons. They would have overturned my veto. And that was a bill that allowed banks to engage in all these derivatives, like collateralized debt obligations, without sufficient collateral. Now, it passed overwhelmingly. Almost every Democrat voted for it, and we all wanted it because it reauthorized something I’ll call the Community Reinvestment Act. The Community Reinvestment Act, if the government enforces it, requires every bank in America to reinvest some money where they take deposits.
And we’ve got 800 billion dollars of investment under it when I was president. Ninety-six percent of all the money that had ever been invested under it, going back to the 1970s, was in those eight years. See, it was a goldmine of broad-based prosperity, and I wanted it badly, and a lot of other Democrats did, and we voted for it, but it would have been overridden, the veto.
And I wish I had vetoed it because I never believed — I had a big argument with Alan Greenspan. He said, “But these things only affect investors with 100 million dollars or more. They can take care of themselves.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t care if they lose 100 million, but you don’t understand. If 100 of them lose 100 million, or 1,000 of them lose 100 million, it can wreck the whole rest of the economy,” which is essentially what happened in the housing crisis. So I wish — it would have become law anyway. I wish I had vetoed that and sounded the alarm.