Thursday, July 22, 2010

Financial Reform Won't Stop Next Crisis

Legislators will have a stark, simple choice: support a bill that gives us more of the same flawed banking regulations, or reject it in the hopes that new congressional leadership next year will address the actual causes of the financial crisis.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, the bill's primary authors, would fail to end the numerous government distortions of our financial and mortgage markets that led to the crisis. Both have been either architects or supporters of those distortions. One might as well ask the fox to build the henhouse.

Nowhere in the final bill will you see even a pretense of rolling back the endless federal incentives and mandates to extend credit, particularly mortgages, to those who cannot afford to pay their loans back. After all, the popular narrative insists that Wall Street fat cats must be to blame for the credit crisis. Despite the recognition that mortgages were offered to unqualified individuals and families, banks will still be required under the Dodd-Frank bill to meet government-imposed lending quotas...

The legislation's worst oversight is to ignore completely the role of loose monetary policy in driving the housing bubble. A bubble of such historic magnitude as the one we went through can only occur in an environment of extremely cheap and plentiful credit. The ultimate provider and price-setter of that credit was the Federal Reserve. Could anyone truly have believed that more than three years of a negative real federal-funds rate — where one is essentially being paid to borrow — would not end in tears?

As the Federal Reserve's monetary policy is largely aimed at short-term borrowing, the Fed also drove the spread between short- and long-term borrowing to historic heights. This created irresistible incentives for households and companies to borrow short — sometimes as short as overnight — and lend long. Many households chose adjustable-rate mortgages that would later reset as interest rates rose, increasing monthly payments. For banks, this spread provided an opportunity for handsome profits by simply speculating on the yield curve.

read the entire essay

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