Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Shape of Financial Reform

Efforts to develop some type of regulatory response to the financial crisis have begun in earnest.

Legislatively, the House Financial Services Committee is drafting legislation which will be the focus of reform in Congress.

Outside of Congress, though, there are other voices making themselves heard. Most notably Obama advisor and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker who has recently argued, and been mostly ignored, that we need to break up large financial institutions and reinstitute Glass-Steagall. This is the Depression era legislation that separated commercial banking (taking deposits, making collateralized loans) and investment banking (issuing and selling securities, and speculating with their own money).

These two activities were separated until legislative changes in the early 80's loosened some of the rules and then they were removed completely about 10 years ago.

The House reform includes a council of regulators meant to monitor the so-called systemic risks and a way for regulators to force a company they feel is undercapitalized to enter bankruptcy. This is a form of "resolution authority" in a manner of speaking, but some in the Obama administration have other ideas. For example, using a mechanism similar to what the FDIC currently uses to take over failed banks. This idea has been espoused by current Fed Chairman Bernanke.

So the final form of reform remains unclear, but those on the right should take heart. At least that's what Reihan Salam argues at National Review where he says Republicans:
are surrendering the playing field to the Democrats on the pretty darn important question of whether or not we're going to be a market economy or a government-dominated economy. This is insane. Politics and principle are pushing in the same direction.

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