Maybe it's useless to lay blame for our current financial mess, but I think women, generally, would have been less willing to engage in the extreme risks that spawned financial derivatives - those toxic financial instruments that have brought the world's economy and finances to the brink of failure.
One woman in particular saw the problems posed by these instruments and their lack of regulation and took on three of the best-known (now infamous?) names in the financial sector: Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Arthur Levitt.
From 1996 to 1999 she chaired the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the federal agency which oversees the futures and commodity options markets as well as the individuals who participate in those markets. Her reputation is one of championing the rights of consumers.
Born wanted more regulation of financial derivatives. The other big guns did not.
Some people, notably Warren Buffett, agreed with Born. But, at the time, it was more of an inside-the-beltway power struggle than a decision that would affect the financial livelihood of millions of Americans.
now know that the largely unregulated market in financial derivatives,
particularly in credit default swaps, contributed to the economic
collapse that has sent ripples into millions of American homes.
While on the commission and after becoming its chair, Born sought comments on the need to regulate derivatives, but the request was opposed by then-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. (Lawrence Summers also opposed the request), but it was Rubin, Greenspan and Levitt who ran the well-oiled resistance machine against Born's calls for regulation of the derivatives market, saying that any such efforts would create legal uncertainly about derivative instruments and could destabilize what had become a significant global financial market, in addition to the usual cries about how new regulation might stifle innovation and could result in moving these instruments offshore.
If all of this sounds vaguely familiar, welcome to back to the future redux.
Unfortunately, Born didn't prevail and Congress stripped the commission of any regulatory authority:
Congress inserted something into an agriculture bill that temporarily prevented her agency from taking regulatory action over the derivatives market. Beaten, Born left the commission in 1999.
A year later, Congress passed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which took away any power of the agency to regulate over-the-counter derivatives.</i>
This is a snippet of Born's congressional testimony on the need to regulate derivatives:
“Losses resulting from misuse of OTC derivatives instruments or from sales practice abuses in the OTC derivatives market can affect many Americans. Many of us have interests in the corporations, mutual funds, pension funds, insurance companies, municipalities and other entities trading in these instruments.”