Senator Tom Harkin has introduced legislation to establish new oversight of financial transactions that some argue were the cause of the Wall Street meltdown. Harkin, a Democrat, proposes that the Commodities Futures Trading Commission begin regulating financial transactions called swaps and derivatives.
"You would then have price discovery. You would know the buyers, the sellers and how much was being transacted. The exchanges could then set margin requirements so that you would have to put up a certain margin if you were a buyer of those derivatives," Harkin says. "That’s what I’m seeking to do is get it out there so everyone knows what we’re doing and it’s all open, above board."
Some experts estimate there are over half-a-trillion "swaps" in force today, transactions that occurred outside the oversight of federally-chartered financial exchanges where, for instance, stocks are traded. Harkin would give the owners of swaps and derivatives a year to register on the exchange, publicly disclosing who owns the swap or derivative and its value.
"So within that next 12 months, they would all have to come forward and be on that exchange," Harkin says. Financial guru Warren Buffet has called swaps and derivatives "financial weapons of mass destruction" and Harkin admits he thought about trying to outlaw them.
"Believe me, I considered that especially in the area of what we call naked swaps," Harkin says. "That’s where someone purchases bonds on these derivatives, but they’re not the buyer or they’re not the seller. They’re just sort of gambling on the side." But Harkin says some use these kind of contracts to lock in a price for buying or selling, a practice called hedging, and Harkin says that’s useful in the marketplace.