Tag: financial reform

Public Sees Past Facade of “Financial Reform”

A new AP-Gfk poll reveals that about two-thirds of the American public lack confidence that the financial regulation bill, currently being crafted by House and Senate conferees, will actually help avert future financial crises. 

The public is right to be skeptical, as there is nothing in either the House or Senate bill that ends bailouts or ends “too-big-to-fail.”  In fact parts of the bill, such as the expansion of deposit insurance, will actually increase the likelihood of future crises.  (The IMF has an insightful working paper on the negative impacts of deposit insurance). 

Perhaps the failure of Congressional efforts to end financial crises is the result of Washington’s unwillingness to recognize that government itself was the major driver of the recent crisis.  Fortunately the public seems to get that.  Some 70 percent of the poll respondents believe that government shares blame for the crisis.  Here’s to hoping that Congress will at some point listen to the public, and end many of the distortionary policies that caused the crisis.

Overcriminalization in the Financial Reform Legislation

The Heritage Foundation and National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) made a stir by announcing their joint report, Without Intent: How Congress is Eroding the Criminal Intent Requirement in Federal Law. The report highlights the growth of federal criminal provisions in the 109th Congress. Many criminal statutes are drafted without the traditional requirement of criminal intent. When there is no requirement that the government prove you “willfully” or “knowingly” broke the law, mistakes are treated the same as intentional criminality. Some laws are written so broadly that it is impossible for anyone to know what conduct is illegal. Criminal provisions are included in statutes that are never reviewed by the judiciary committees of either chamber of Congress.

The NACDL has a follow-up analysis of the financial regulatory reform currently being considered by Congress. The Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 has passed both houses and is heading into committee.

This 1600-page bill does everything that the Without Intent report warned against. The “reckless disregard” intent requirement is imported from tort law in several provisions and many others have no mental state requirement at all. New bribery and mail/wire fraud provisions are included where none are necessary. Bribery and fraud are already illegal.

Read the whole thing (direct .pdf link here).

Tuesday Links

  • Surprise! The “financial reform” bill is full of kickbacks to well connected cronies: “The public needs to understand that, far from protecting the little guy and sticking it to the fat cats, this bill keeps good, old-fashioned political patronage alive and well.”
  • When did this happen? “Historians find long-lost clause of U.S. Constitution giving federal authorities unlimited jurisdiction over the American palate.” Oh wait, it didn’t.
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Volcker on Financial Reform and Economic Stimulus

In a recent edition of The Region magazine, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, retiring Minn. Fed President Gary Stern interviews Paul Volcker on a variety of topics.  It’s an interview well worth reading, and reminds one why Volcker is one of the more thoughtful voices on economics and finance, even if he isn’t always right.

Some highlights.  On the Obama financial reform plan:

I do not share one part of the general philosophy which seemed to emerge from this, particularly the proposal that the Federal Reserve supervise directly all “systemically important” institutions. I don’t know what “systemically important” institutions are, incidentally, but I’m sure that if you picked them out, people will assume they’re going to be saved, that they’re too big to fail. At the same time, there’d be some that you don’t pick out in advance that you’d want to save under particular circumstances.  So I think that is a mistake.

Volcker also express concern that those institutions at the center of the crisis are left out of the reform.  Specifically he mentions that Obama Administration officials “haven’t said anything about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.”

Volcker also takes issue with the Administration’s proposal to regulate non-banks, including hedge funds and private equity.  “I wouldn’t regulate so strictly the nonbanks.  I’d like to create the impression…that there’s no automatic bailout of those institutions.”

Volcker also raises important questions about the Administration’s Keynesian stimulus actions.  As the stimulus was meant to replace a reduction in private sector demand, Volcker asks “are we really dealing with the underlying pressures in the economy without permitting a relative decline in consumption to proceed?”

Those are just a few of his comments.  Here’s to hoping the rest of the Obama Administration is listening.  They could do a lot worse than Volcker’s advice.