A Year Later, a Fiscal Recipe for Disaster

One year ago Lehman Brothers filed for the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. corporate history, setting off one of the most volatile and unpredictable years since the Great Depression.

The day the 158-year-old firm went bankrupt, the financial landscape changed forever.

"I think the government rues the day it let Lehman fail, because that was ground zero of the economic crisis," Business Week's Roben Farzad told CBS' "The Early Show."

A year later the crisis is still unfolding. The Dow is down more than a thousand points, unemployment is close to 10 percent, and the government has pumped trillions of dollars into the economy.

Banking industry insiders tell CBS News they warned the government about a potential collapse.

"We warned about downsizing the largest mega-institutions," said Paul Merski, senior vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America. "We have a situation where only 4 megabanks are controlling nearly half of all the financial assets in the county.

"That is a recipe for a disaster," Merski told CBS News correspondent Anthony Mason.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the banks are more stable.

"Actually the banks as a whole are in a much stronger position today than they were nine months ago," he said.

But 92 banks have failed so far this year, compared to 2007 when there were a mere 3 failures.

Merski, and others we spoke to, said more banks could fail if Congress doesn't act.

"If you're 'too big to fail,' you're too big to exist," Merski told CBS.

Another area where little has changed: lavish bonuses.

"The problem with bonuses is not just the amount but, from the public standpoint, [giving] people incentive to gamble with somebody else's money and not paying a penalty," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

While the president is optimistic, Americans aren't. According to a new poll, 7 out of 10 say the government hasn't taken enough safeguards to prevent another meltdown.

Have we made progress, and what more needs to be done to prevent another financial meltdown?

Professor Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP funds, was asked on CBS's "Early Show" if changes are in place to make sure that could never happen again.

"The problem we have is that all the same rules that got us into this crisis to begin with are basically the same rules that are in place," Warren said. "We haven't yet made the structural changes we need to make, to make sure we don't head that [way] again."

A recent report by the TARP oversight panel stated, "Changing accounting standards helped the banks temporarily by allowing them greater leeway in describing their assets, but it did not change the underlying problem. In order to advance a full recovery in the economy, there must be greater transparency, accountability, and clarity, from both the government and banks, about the scope of the troubled asset problem. Treasury and relevant government agencies should work together to move financial institutions toward sufficient disclosure of the terms and volume of troubled assets on institutions' books so that markets can function more effectively."

What Warren said is needed is "big change."

"This isn't about saying this one thing and we'll make them stop doing the other thing. It's really about structure, and the way the plan works is that it starts at the consumer end. We have to remember this crisis started one household as a time with lousy mortgages and too much credit card debt. And it says we're going to change some of those basic rules so that consumers have better tools so that nobody gets fooled - so you can tell what kind of costs you're taking up front.

"And then there are structural changes on up the line, all the way up to what's called systemic risk regulation, where all of these products have been aggregated and are producing so much risk on Wall Street and for the rest of the economy."
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