Fannie, Freddie, and Future Bailouts

March/​April 2015 • Policy Report

There was perhaps no issue of greater importance to the financial regulatory reforms of 2010 than the resolution, without taxpayer assistance, of large financial institutions. The rescue of firms such as AIG shocked the public conscience and provided the political force behind the passage of the Dodd‐​Frank Act. Such is reflected in the fact that Titles I and II of Dodd‐ Frank relate to the identification and resolution of large financial entities. How the tools established in Titles I and II are implemented are paramount to the success of Dodd‐​Frank. In “The Resolution of Systematically Important Financial Institutions: Lessons from Fannie and Freddie” ( Working Paper no. 25), Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies at the Cato Institute, attempts to gauge the likely success of these tools via the lens of similar tools created for the resolution of the housing government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Calabria also provides some additional legislative history of the resolution mechanisms contained in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA), which established a resolution framework for the GSEs similar to that ultimately created in Title II of Dodd‐​Frank. As such, he adds to the current debate over the resolution of systemically important financial institutions by revisiting how such issues were debated and agreed upon in HERA. “The neglect of HERA’s tools and the likely similar neglect of Dodd-Frank’s suggest a much deeper reform of our financial regulatory system is in order,” Calabria concludes.

INFORMAL LAND CLAIMS Informal land tenure continues to be the norm in developing countries despite billions spent on land administration and reform programs in the last 20 years. But the problem goes deeper than insufficient funding or poorly executed projects, write Peter F. Schaefer and Clayton Schaefer of Globaland Group, in “An Innovative Approach to Land Registration in the Developing World” (Policy Analysis no. 765). “By strengthening public land registry institutions that work on behalf of authoritarian or predatory governments, reform programs, often financed by Western aid agencies and intended to improve property protections for smallholders, may have actually enhanced the ability of elites to capture informal property or delay formalization for their own political or financial benefit,” they write. This paper explains how inexpensive hand‐​held devices, satellite imagery, and informal online land registries can be used by communities to identify and settle property claims through mutual verification of rights among neighbors. Such documentation of land claims is not costly or complex and is thus accessible even to the poorest communities around the globe. Neither would such a process be controversial for those involved. The vast majority of informal land claims are well established and undisputed within the communities and an informal mapping and registration process would simply make a record of existing property patterns. Such informal communities and support organizations can and should engage in self‐​registration of property and transactions, in essence bypassing incompetent, inefficient, or hostile land registry bureaucracies, until they reach the critical mass necessary to achieve formal recognition of their land rights.

Rideshare companies Uber and Lyft are facing predictable complaints as they continue to grow, many of which concern safety. Ridesharing safety worries relate to the well‐​being of drivers, passengers, and third parties. “In each of these cases there is little evidence that the sharing economy services are more dangerous than traditional taxis,” writes Matthew Feeney, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, in “Is Ridesharing Safe?” (Policy Analysis no. 767). In fact, the ridesharing business model offers big safety advantages as far as drivers are concerned. In particular, ridesharing’s cash‐​free transactions and self‐​identified customers substantially mitigate one of the worst risks associated with traditional taxis: the risk of violent crime. An analysis of the safety regulations governing vehicles for hire does not suggest that ride‐​sharing companies ought to be more strictly regulated. “It does highlight, however, that in many parts of the country lawmakers and regulators have not adequately adapted to the rise of ridesharing, which fits awkwardly into existing regulatory frameworks governing taxis,” Feeney adds. There will be many real and substantive issues to sort out as the rideshare industry continues to develop. In particular, heavily regulated taxi drivers have a valid point when they complain that they have to compete on an unlevel playing field with less regulated rideshare companies. But, as Feeney concludes, the appropriate response to this problem is to rationalize and modernize the outdated and heavy‐​handed restrictions on taxis — not to extend those restrictions to ridesharing.

Scholars and policymakers are worried about “ungoverned spaces” — areas of limited or anomalous government control inside otherwise functional states. “Ungoverned spaces are the latest incarnation of persistent concerns about governance,” writes Jennifer Keister, a former Cato visiting research fellow, in “The Illusion of Chaos: Why Ungoverned Spaces Aren’t Ungoverned, and Why That Matters” (Policy Analysis no. 766). The concern is that poorly governed areas will spawn instability or shelter violent nonstate actors who can launch attacks, interdict access to fossil fuels and transit lanes, or pursue criminal activities. Policies to mitigate these risks are broadly based in the belief that bringing ungoverned spaces more fully under states’ control is both possible and beneficial. While the United States has undertaken direct action against some violent nonstate actors in ungoverned spaces, most policies have aimed to encourage host states to more fully integrate these areas. Ungoverned spaces exist because integrating them offers few benefits and may pose high costs to host regimes. “Moreover, the term ‘ungoverned spaces’ is a misnomer — these areas are not ungoverned,” Keister writes. They are simply ruled by subnational authorities. Failure to understand why ungoverned spaces exist and persist may lead policymakers to underestimate the costs of integrating them. Keister concludes that policymakers should be realistic about the limited problems posed by ungoverned spaces, the political and financial costs of integration policies, the need to prioritize goals, and the intelligence requirements needed to make fine‐​grained assessments.

Download the Policy Report Article