President Donald Trump wants to dismantle much of the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, which was designed to prevent another financial crisis. The law barred banks from many profitable but risky businesses, forced them to add loss-absorbing capital, and required them to make detailed plans for how to shut down in a crisis. Critics say it made banks wary of lending by overburdening them with rules, hampering the economic recovery.
Bloomberg View columnists Tyler Cowen and Noah Smith met online to debate Trump’s proposal.
Smith: Dodd-Frank is an incredibly complex, multifaceted piece of legislation. So it’s almost certain that many of its provisions will turn out to have been unnecessary. I think it’s always good to revisit these reform bills years later, after political pressure to “do something” has subsided, and fix the parts that don’t work.
That said, what I see as the core elements of Dodd-Frank seem important. The various provisions for orderly liquidation of bankrupt financial companies seem like something we’ll need down the road. Bringing derivatives from over-the-counter to exchanges also clearly seems like a good thing. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau seems important as well. These are all approaches that have worked well elsewhere. We already have Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. liquidation of banks, exchanges for stocks and futures, and consumer protection for foods and beverages.
What do you see as the key elements of Dodd-Frank that need to be repealed or deeply changed?
Cowen: The most significant part of Dodd-Frank has been higher capital requirements, which have made banks put more “skin in the game” and also protected the taxpayers. But after that, I am mostly skeptical.
It seems Dodd-Frank has lowered bank-charter values, and thus pushed them closer to insolvency. It also seems likely that Dodd-Frank has made mortgage lending more expensive, thereby slowing the economic recovery and also poisoning the political climate. Those are some pretty significant costs.
As for the rest, we mostly don’t know. For instance, bringing derivatives into exchanges, one of the examples you mention, might be putting too much pressure on clearinghouses and creating a new class of too-big-to-fail institutions.
Too many aspects of this bill don’t have strong evidence behind them. Dodd-Frank is a classic example of “We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it.”
Smith: When evaluating the impact of Dodd-Frank, I’d be very careful of post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning. Houses tend to be burned-out wrecks after fire fighters leave them; this doesn’t mean we want to lay off all the fire fighters.
When the crisis hit, many people realized the existence of risks that they had ignored before. The realization of those risks should make mortgage lenders a lot more cautious, regulation or no regulation. In any case, I wouldn’t worry about mortgages too much — 30-year rates are near historic lows.
I am concerned about Dodd-Frank’s impact on bank business models. But it’s also possible those models just didn’t make sense anymore by 2007 without excessive leverage. Bond markets have taken over most business lending in the U.S., leaving banks reliant on mortgage lending and trading. Increased capital requirements, which you and I both support, might make those business models into a sunset industry.