Diary

The Panacea Of Regulation . . .

is no panacea at all:

As usual after a financial crisis, we hear demands for new controls and regulations to stop it from happening again. But since every crisis has led to thousands of new pages of regulation, why is it that regulation doesn’t stop crises from happening again? No matter what pundits say, we are nowhere near a laissez-faire situation. Look no further than the US federal institutions in Washington, DC, and we find 12,113 individuals working full time to regulate the financial markets. What did they do with the powers they had?

Made mistakes. American politicians, central banks and regulators were just as eager as speculators to expand the housing bubble. They just had a bigger pump.

The US Federal Reserve lowered interest rates from 6.5 percent to 1 percent between 2001 and 2003, and housing prices soared. Starting in 1995, the government threatened banks and thrifts with regulations and legal challenges if they did not extend more loans to poor neighbourhoods and a government-sponsored company such as Fannie Mae used its state guarantees to purchase more risky loans and expand the sub-prime market.

Is the solution to the crisis really to give more power to people and institutions that contributed to bringing it about?

Well, no. But that’s what we are going to do anyway. And here is why:

Regulations and controls often result in new difficulties even when the intentions of policymakers are good and the hopes are real. That does not even begin to address the problem that a lot of new regulations are just symbols, enacted to show people that politicians have done something, even if they know that it does not really address the problem. It follows the politicians’ logic from the British television series Yes, Prime Minister: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.”