Regulation – Something Different

Scandals! Shootings! War! Is there any end to the bad news?

The short answer is, “No.” Given that we will always have some terrible news to react to, it’s worth sometimes ignoring it and thinking about what a better world might look like. The idea is that by being calm and rational one might provide an example for the rest of the world to also be calm and rational.

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Break Big Banks?

Too Big to Fail. It’s not just a description, it’s a political mantra – we have banks which have grown to the point where government cannot manage a potential collapse and the whole system goes down. Why not just bust them up?

There are actually a lot of good reasons why something much more subtle has to be done, as well as something more comprehensive. That doesn’t sell as well on the campaign trail, where the evil banks are a handy villain for all of our economic ills. Yet it’s vitally important because it’s entirely possible that in a rush to regulate we might do something which is not only dangerous but misses the real problem entirely.

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Careful What You Wish For

Is the Federal Reserve nothing but a tool for big banks? According to an op-ed by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), it sure looks that way. The presidential candidate and hero to millions of progressives made the case for an audit, tighter controls, and other measures to rein in the nation’s central banking system.

There are clearly problems with the Fed and it’s very mixed charters to tame inflation, encourage full employment, maintain the value of the US Dollar, and regulate banks. The more presence and power the Fed gains the more this is an important issue. But today’s “progressives” aren’t in a mood for just reform – many are in a mood to “End the Fed!”

While that position is understandable it’s horribly misguided. But it’s a great highlight for the tension inherent in not-that-subtle difference between a “liberal” and a “progressive”.  And it’s ultimately a rather irresponsible position that Sanders is taking.

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Flak Over Frack

There is probably no more contentious issue at the crossroads of politics and technology than hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process, where oil and gas drillers chew up rock deep in the earth, is responsible for the major oil boom that produced so much oil it collapsed into the current bust – with very low oil prices. It also creates a lot of environmental damage and, as a relatively new technology, is remarkably unregulated.

New rules were introduced for fracking on federal land on Friday by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Eagerly awaiting them were the drilling industry and environmentalists, both of which had a big stake in the regulations. If you are a long time follower of these procedures, or simply a cynic, it might come as no surprise that both sides are unhappy.

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New Rules – New Game?

Tuesday is scheduled to be the day that everything changes. Not everything, really, but it’s the day that the “Volcker Rule” will finally go into effect. “Leave the capital markets to their own devices without any expectation of government protection and keep the existing safety net for the commercial banking system,” Volcker said in 2009. In practice, this means that commercial banking, with deposits backed by the FDIC, have to be separated from stock trading and similar activities.

It’s not the Glass-Steagall Act, which required completely separate kinds of banks operating as different companies to perform the different kinds of investing. But it’s not bad. And if it sounds simple in principle the regulation authorized by Dodd-Frank takes 800 pages. Four years from its proposal and 3 years from its passage, it’s ready to roll out. How will it go?

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Bank Regulation That Makes Sense

“Too Big To Fail” (TBTF) is the standard for socialized risk and privatized profits.  The biggest banks enjoy an implied bailout under Dodd-Frank regulations that give them a tremendous advantage over smaller banks.  The complex weave of financial innovations that are their signature is impossible for anyone to understand, making the risk we have taken on as taxpayers almost impossible to quantify.

What can be done about it?  Try TBTF – the “Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness” Act of 2013.

This legislation, introduced by Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, and David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, cuts through the complexity, levels the playing field among banks, and ends “Too Big To Fail” once and for all.  What chance does it have?  Actually, a very good one because of some terrific politics.

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