On Wednesday President Obama is supposed to unveil his plan to overhaul the regulatory structure for banks and other financial institutions. Clearly such an overhaul is sorely needed. The SEC, CFTC, OCC, OTS, and assorted other agencies have been asleep for years. The question is whether the president means business. I have my doubts.
Simon Johnson, who is quickly becoming my favorite economist, has compiled a handy viewer’s guide that will help answer this question. I’m guessing that no more than one or two of Johnson’s ten questions will be answered. # 6 would be particularly interesting:
“If a bank or other financial institution is “too big to fail,” how exactly does the President plan to deal with it in the future? Even if a wind-down can be managed by Treasury, with its new resolution authority (if granted), what will be the expected cost to the taxpayer? If “too big to fail” is not in the President’s view “too big [to] exist,” kindly explain why not.”
An excellent question. I predict the president will not answer this question because he cannot answer it. Even if he really wants to get the banks under control – which is doubtful – he can’t do so because the bankers have Congress in their pocket.
So we will end up with lots of tough talk, some expensive new agencies, and about a million loopholes that allow the industry to keep driving as far over the speed limit as it wants. And we may not even get that much – there’s a good chance the whole agenda will be put on hold while the administration focuses its energy on other priorities like health care and climate change. Since 2010 is an election year, don’t look for much to happen then, either.
We’ll be left with what we have now: the financial equivalent of Barney Fife, the deputy without a gun. And this time, there’s no Andy Taylor to clean up the mess.