Legislating Against Bad Guys Isn’t As Easy As It Looks

As the Senate lurches toward the goal line on financial reform, senators and staff are doing their best curtail the future financial excesses of bad guys without harming good guys. It’s not easy to do.

Derivatives — How do you curtail “naked” bets without hurting hedges by “end users?” If you’re a farmer or an airline, the last thing you want is higher costs of exchange trading, centralized clearing, and higher capital and margin requirements for hedging corn and jet fuel to reduce risks and increase transparency. Those higher costs could put some firms out of business. How do you distinguish “proprietary” trading from “market making” trading? A trade is a trade. It doesn’t come with an attached electronic note that says, “A good client insisted on buying this, so we had to go short,” or “We hate this client, so we’re going short to screw him and make a lot of money.” As Goldman executives tried to explain at an April 27 Senate hearing, the price of a trade determines how risky it is, not the existence of the trade. In other words, it may be a ripoff if you sell your newly painted clunker for $3,000, but it may be a good deal at $2,000.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — Should this new regulatory body cover dentists who extend credit to patients? Should auto dealers be covered? Should small businesses be covered? If they are, they will incur higher costs and bureaucratic interference. Again, some good guys will go out of business, but some bad guys will too. The bad guys don’t go around wearing signs that say “I’m a financial predator.” Should a poor person with a bad credit history pay a higher price for a payday loan? Probably, but some payday lenders enjoy local monopolies that allow them to overcharge. If we limit what they can charge, does that help the poor person who can no longer get a loan? What about debt settlement companies, which step in to help those in over their heads? Most achieve enough debt reduction to justify their fees, but some fly-by-night operators have given the industry a bad name by collecting up front fees and failing to deliver much debt reduction. Will the new CFPB curtail mortgage lending for those who can’t afford it, or will Congress act as it has in the past and push regulators to expand “opportunities” for home ownership?

Bank (fee) tax — Although the $50 billion fee was dropped from the Senate bill, the idea could reappear. Charging large financial institutions a fee of 0.15% of their overall liabilities is a good idea in theory, but making it work in practice will be difficult. Most of the bad actors from the financial crisis are long gone. Why should the ones who survived pay? Well, many of them survived because of the government bailout, but, except for AIG and the auto companies, that money has been paid back at a very good rate of return for the taxpayers. If such a fee is imposed, will the existence of that trust fund embolden financial institutions to take more risks? That was one of the main reasons the fee was dropped.

Bottom line: Separating the bad guys from the good guys is very difficult and costly. As we economists like to say, there are lots of tradeoffs. We need more protection against future financial crises, but how much and at what price?

About Pete Davis 99 Articles

Affiliation: Davis Capital Investment Ideas

Pete Davis advises Wall Street money managers on Washington policy developments that affect the financial markets. President of his own consulting firm since 1992, Davis Capital Investment Ideas, he draws on 11 years of experience as a Capitol Hill economist with the Joint Committee on Taxation (1974-1981), the Senate Budget Committee (1981-1983), and Senator Robert C. Byrd (1992). He worked in the House and Senate, and for Republicans and Democrats.

Davis brought the first computer policy model, the Treasury Individual Income Tax Model, to Capitol Hill in early 1974, when he became a revenue estimator on the Joint Committee on Taxation. He formulated the 1975 rebate, the earned income tax credit, the 1976 estate tax rates, the 1978 marginal tax rates, and the Roth-Kemp tax cut. He left Capitol Hill in 1983 for the Washington Research Office of Prudential-Bache Securities, where he advised investors for seven years.

Davis has long written a newsletter on the Washington-Wall Street connection for his clients; Capital Gains and Games is his first foray into the blogosphere.

Visit: Capital Gains and Games

1 Comment on Legislating Against Bad Guys Isn’t As Easy As It Looks

  1. Big government is not the answer. If you take the power away from the people and hand the problems over to the government, there will always be trouble. How far should the government go to ensure that the people’s choices are their own? It ultimately costs us anyway. When the problems are diverse, as they are, there will never be a “one size fits all” solution. What needs to happen is the government needs to set parameters on how we should behave in regards to our business dealings and punish those that don’t adhere. Honesty and transparency in business is gone, and as most fear, too many agendas are at play, none of which are the consumers/constituents. If you didn’t allow a football team to actually play and managed all the details to the smallest respect, it’s not really a game anymore. The people need to manage their own lives and conduct themselve in a manner that is fitting for them all. Unfortunately, there are few statesmen that remain, and the end result is a country made up of pandering politicians seeking to fill their own pockets at the expense of those they pretend to protect. The world needs truth to reign.

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