Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Economist on Dodd-Frank:
The law that set up America’s banking system in 1864 ran to 29 pages; the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 went to 32 pages; the Banking Act that transformed American finance after the Wall Street Crash, commonly known as the Glass-Steagall act, spread out to 37 pages. Dodd-Frank is 848 pages long... And the size is only the beginning. The scope and structure of Dodd-Frank are fundamentally different to those of its precursor laws, notes Jonathan Macey of Yale Law School: “Laws classically provide people with rules. Dodd-Frank is not directed at people. It is an outline directed at bureaucrats and it instructs them to make still more regulations and to create more bureaucracies.” Like the Hydra of Greek myth, Dodd-Frank can grow new heads as needed.

Take the transformation of 11 pages of Dodd-Frank into the so-called “Volcker rule”, which is intended to reduce banks’ ability to take excessive risks by restricting proprietary trading and investments in hedge funds and private equity (Paul Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, has argued that such activity contributed to the crisis). In November four of the five federal agencies charged with enacting this rule jointly put forward a 298-page proposal which is, in the words of a banker publicly supportive of Dodd-Frank, “unintelligible any way you read it”. It includes 383 explicit questions for firms which, if read closely, break down into 1,420 subquestions, according to Davis Polk, a law firm. The interactive Volcker “rule map” Davis Polk has produced for its clients has 355 distinct steps...

When Dodd-Frank was passed, its supporters suggested that tying up its loose ends would take 12-18 months. Eighteen months on, those predictions look hopelessly naive. Politicians and officials responsible for Dodd-Frank are upbeat about their progress and the system’s prospects, at least when speaking publicly. But one banker immersed in the issue speaks for many when he predicts a decade of grind, with constant disputes in courts and legislatures, finally producing a regime riddled with exceptions and nuances that may, because of its complexity, exacerbate systemic risks rather than mitigate them.

For the same reasons that bankers are worried, lawyers are rubbing their hands.

Later on, the article adds:
A few [bankers] also see the possibility of gaining an edge: some well established banks consider themselves better able to handle the costs than smaller or newer ones, particularly those that don’t have cushy relationships with regulators.

This of course, is exactly the kind of legislation that Federalist 62 was warning us about:
Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.
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