Page last updated at 20:57 GMT, Tuesday, 1 April 2008 21:57 UK

US market reform plan criticised

By Michelle Fleury
Business reporter, BBC News, New York

For those looking for a quick fix for the US economy, this wasn't it.

Henry Paulson
Mr Paulson started working on this plan before the credit crisis

On Monday, the US Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson unveiled his plans to modernise the way that financial markets are policed.

Mr Paulson's proposals, which he said would, "require a great deal of discussion and take many years to complete", represent the biggest shake up of the financial regulatory system since the Great Depression.

But many are unimpressed with the former investment banker's plans.

He started work on them long before the current credit crisis.

Less regulation

Then the big worry was that markets overseas, such as London, were gaining a competitive edge over the US.

Wall Street wanted less regulation, not more.

But critics say the credit crisis is proof that financial institutions are not good at policing themselves.

"The Bear Stearns collapse brought that home to everyone, these huge actors, these investment banks everyone realises are now jeopardising the stability of the financial system," says Dean Baker from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"At this point, they are acting largely without regulation," he adds.

Facing foreclosure

Since the problems in the credit markets emerged last summer, the issue of financial regulation has gained in prominence.

With up to two million home owners in the US facing foreclosure this year, and after the near collapse of one of America's biggest banks, Bear Stearns, some wonder could any of this have been averted if these new regulations had been in place?

"There will always be excesses in financial markets," says Harvey Pitt, who was in charge of the Securities and Exchange Commission between 2001 and 2003.

"I think some of the more dramatic events and effects could have been ameliorated if we'd had a better regulatory system in place," he adds.

New president

The system could certainly do with some streamlining.

"The US regulatory system is really a patchwork quilt of regulations and bodies that have evolved in response to crises," according to Professor Thomas Cooley, Dean of New York University's Stern Business School.

Given the proposals still need to be approved by Congress, Mr Paulson's plan marks the start of what is likely to be a lengthy debate.

How far these changes go is unlikely to be decided before a new president moves into the White House.

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