Why the champion of circuit breakers wants humans back in control

nicholas_brady.gi.top.jpg By Carol Loomis, senior editor-at-large


(Fortune) -- The man who first suggested that circuit breakers should be installed on American stock exchanges -- former Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady, who headed the government commission that investigated the causes of the 1987 crash -- laments their ineffectiveness on May 6 and says it's high time regulators stepped in to stiffen the rules.

"We need to let the human mind catch up with the market's mechanics," says Brady.

Brady, 80, says that he sees "few redeeming virtues" in the fast-trading now so prevalent in the market. "People argue," he says, "that fast trades lower costs and provide liquidity. But that's not what the American people have on their mind. They don't want moves in the market that produce tidal waves of worry."

Fast-traders, Brady thinks, operate on the assumption that their trading process works well more than 99% of the time. "Well," he says, "it's the less than 1% that will kill you."

He also regrets the damage that last week's "flash crash," as it has come to be called, has done to America's image around the globe. "One of the things this monster has hurt is our world reputation," he says.

In past months, before the need to brood about fast-trading came up, Brady has been actively working to secure passage by Congress of the Volcker Rule, which would require banks to split their proprietary trading from their insured banking operations.

Passage of the Volcker Rule was in doubt for months, but now seems assured because banks have been forced to focus on a proposal they detest even more, spinning off their derivatives books. That plan was the lightning bolt hurled by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D., Ark.), chairman of the agricultural committee, which has a strong voice in the regulatory debate because of its jurisdiction over the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

In general, Brady deplores the market "shenanigans" that have evolved from the complex technology that has become a part of Wall Street's systems. He says, "I don't think it's the job of the financial community to bewilder its patrons." To top of page