Asher Edelman is an old-school corporate raider. He’s probably best known as one of several individuals smushed together to form a composite of the archetypical Wall Street villain: Gordon “Greed Is Good” Gekko from Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street. Edelman also taught at Columbia Business School, where he was famously reprimanded by the school’s dean for offering a $100,000 bounty to any student who successfully identified a company for him to buy.
More recently, though, the financier, who now specializes in art loans, has become an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders, even starring in a Sanders campaign video. Edelman is not involved with the campaign in any official capacity — he prefers to think of himself as a one-man PAC for the Vermont senator — but he’s attracted attention for his claim that Bernie is the only candidate who can save the U.S. economy from a devastating and imminent financial collapse.
Today, Edelman tells Rolling Stone, the big banks are something like seven times more leveraged with derivatives than they were just before the housing bubble burst in 2008. “The first thing one has to do to prevent the next crash,” he says, “is to separate the lending and the speculating functions. The speculating functions should be restricted to those banks where the shareholders take the risk, and where the depositors do not, and where the government does not need to come in and bail anything out.”
A president with the will to enact financial reform, he contends, could get to work using the mechanisms that currently exist. “With Dodd-Frank and other laws in place, there are possibilities for restricting the banks quite quickly and quite strongly until you can actually get to the place where the two functions are separate,” Edelman says.
He sees a willingness to tackle the problem in Sanders, but not from his rivals on the Republican side, nor from his challenger for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. “All she wants to do is to maintain the status quo,” he says. “And the status quo is what is keeping us where we are today, and is quite likely going to throw us into a depression.”
Edelman holds Clinton’s husband responsible for getting the country in this mess in the first place by signing the bill that ended the Glass-Steagall Act, which kept commercial and investment banks separate. (Many, if not most, economists disagree with the assertion that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was responsible for the financial collapse, and some have gone so far as to say that, left intact, the legislation may have made the situation worse — but most agree that deregulation that took place under Bill Clinton’s watch was a contributing factor to the recession.)
But if it’s so easy for a president to break up the big banks without help from Congress, why did Sanders have so much trouble explaining how he would do it during a recent conversation with the New York Daily News‘ editorial board? Edelman admits that interview wasn’t a great look for the senator. “It sounded like he had a goal, and he didn’t quite know how to accomplish it yet,” he says. “He is going to have to have advisers who are economic thinkers and who understand this process, but it happens that his intuition about what he would do for the people, and how he would do it, is very good economically in today’s situation.”
For more context on the answers Sanders gave to the Daily News regarding the mechanisms currently in place that could help him fulfill his signature campaign promise, check out this helpful explainer from the Roosevelt Institute.