THE TRANSFORMATION OF WALL STREET: A History of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Modern Corporate Finance by Joel Seligman

THE TRANSFORMATION OF WALL STREET: A History of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Modern Corporate Finance

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Previously there was no single-volume history of the Securities and Exchange Commission since its inception in 1934, and now there is--but the book is a 600pp. thicket of descriptive detail and pin-on (or missing) interpretations that will be of use only, on a selective basis, to fact-finders. Seligman, the author of an attack on Harvard Law School (The High Citadel, 1978) and a teacher at Northeastern Law School, has trouble fitting securities regulation into a coherent historical framework. The title notwithstanding, he does not demonstrate--or, until the book's last line, assert--that the SEC ""transformed"" Wall Street; if anything, he overstresses compromises made to secure passage of the 1933 Securities Act and the 1934 Securities Exchange Act, giving a misleading impression of what Frankfurter and has fellow reformers intended. Nonetheless, his assessment of the New Deal era as a whole--the precedent-setting Joseph Kennedy-James Landis-William Douglas regimes--is the standard one: the SEC curtailed abuses, thereby strengthening Wall Street (as it was meant to), and came to be recognized as a model regulatory agency. (A far more succinct, lucid, and incisive account is provided in Michael Parrish's Securities Regulation and the New Deal.) Under Truman and Eisenhower, Seligman shows, the SEC languished for want of money and support; and then comes the book's strongest narrative stretch, on the reactivating chairmanships of William Cary (1961-64) and Manuel Cohen (1964-69). As regards recent years, on the other hand, the text fails even to indicate the basic conflict--which coalesced under Carter-appointee Harold Williams and continues today--between the traditional concept of the SEC as a watchdog and pressures for relaxation of the agency's regulatory grip. (Part of that story, at least, is told in ex-SEC commissioner Roberta Karmel's Regulation by Prosecution, p. 116,) In that light, Seligman's closing pronouncement that the SEC has transformed Wall Street seems not only unwarranted but uncomprehending. All right for the history of longtime SEC issues (the New York Stock Exchange specialist system, fixed commission rates, etc.) and for accounts of some SEC chairmanships; otherwise, rather a muddle.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1982
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin