Financial reform won’t do much for economic recovery

Published 10:19 am Saturday, July 24, 2010

The newly passed financial reform legislation, commonly referred to as the Dodd-Frank bill, fails to address some of the major issues that caused the current financial crisis and will likely do nothing to speed economic recovery.

This is the biggest expansion of government over the financial sector since the Great Depression. The bill is 2,319 pages long, and will require over 243 new formal rule makings by no less than 10 federal agencies. The bill also creates a new federal agency, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, which will police consumer financial products and set new standards for trading derivatives.

Creating a new agency and funding the staff increase in existing agencies will be paid for with tax dollars. Agencies have already asked for over $100 million in order to begin promulgating rules for new financial regulation, and the bill is estimated to have a total cost of over $30 billion. More federal spending while the deficit continues to rise.

In all of those pages the bill fails to deal with reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage finance companies that factored heavily into causing the “Great Recession” by issuing sub-prime and adjustable rate mortgages.

Some congressional leaders have stated that they plan to address reform of those companies in the future, but it seems strange not to address one of the root causes of the financial collapse in the most comprehensive financial reform since 1933.

The bill also fails to address Wall Street’s central problem, another root cause of the financial collapse: systematic non-disclosure about the real worth of financial firms. Dodd-Frank does not mandate greater transparency for financial firms, and these companies will likely still be able to avoid disclosure by hiding behind claims of proprietary information.

This means that there will remain no independent way to verify, in real time, a financial firm’s assets and liabilities, leaving them vulnerable to panicky investors, fueled by a volatile mixture of rumors, facts and speculation — the same situation that led to the financial meltdown of several financial firms over the past few years.

Signing the bill into law is simply the beginning of financial reform as the financial sector will now have to take a wait-and-see approach as to what new rules will be issued by agencies, and then companies must analyze the implications of those rules on their business.

All of this uncertainty is a major reason why the economy has been so slow to rebound; businesses are uncertain about future taxes, new health care laws, and now will have to wait years to realize the full impact of this financial legislation.

This uncertainty causes a hiring freeze in the private sector, even when companies have the additional cash needed to bring on more help.

The bill basically leaves previous financial regulation laws intact, but increases officials’ discretionary power to regulate, or not regulate, the financial services industry, which is roughly the same system that was in place before this bill was passed.