Monday, November 24, 2008

Cutting Red Tape

I wish I could say it was photoshopped, but this outrageous picture of regulators destroying regulations was taken at a 2003 press event. Yesterday's Washington Post article titled Banking Regulator Played Advocate Over Enforcer mentioned this unfortunate image:
In the summer of 2003, leaders of the four federal agencies that oversee the banking industry gathered to highlight the Bush administration's commitment to reducing regulation. They posed for photographers behind a stack of papers wrapped in red tape. The others held garden shears. Gilleran, who succeeded Seidman as OTS director in late 2001, hefted a chain saw.
The other men in the picture were identified by CalculatedRisk: John Reich (then Vice Chairman of the FDIC and later at the OTS), James McLaughlin of the American Bankers Association, Harry Doherty of America's Community Bankers, and Ken Guenther of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

As we lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis, we would all like a simple explanation. Unfortunately, life is complicated:
As Congress and the incoming Obama administration prepare to revamp federal financial oversight, the collapse of the thrift industry offers a lesson in how regulation can fail. It happened over several years, a product of the regulator's overly close identification with its banks, which it referred to as "customers," and of the agency managers' appetite for deregulation, new lending products and expanded homeownership sometimes at the expense of traditional oversight. Tough measures, like tighter lending standards, were not employed until after borrowers began defaulting in large numbers.

The agency championed the thrift industry's growth during the housing boom and called programs that extended mortgages to previously unqualified borrowers as "innovations." In 2004, the year that risky loans called option adjustable-rate mortgages took off, then-OTS director James Gilleran lauded the banks for their role in providing home loans. "Our goal is to allow thrifts to operate with a wide breadth of freedom from regulatory intrusion," he said in a speech.

At the same time, the agency allowed the banks to project minimal losses and, as a result, reduce the share of revenue they were setting aside to cover them. By September 2006, when the housing market began declining, the capital reserves held by OTS-regulated firms had declined to their lowest level in two decades, less than a third of their historical average, according to financial records.
With no end in sight for this financial crisis, some are perceiving a fundamental flaw in capitalism which will leave us all relying on the barter system. I guess now is a good time to learn how to hunt and fish?


Ishmael Napoleon Daro said...

This makes me smile. Not only are the regulators bashing regulations, but the very act of "cutting red tape" seems to require five guys in suits -- the very image of bureaucracy.

Kristen said...

Never thought of it that way... It's like one of those jokes how many [blank] does it take to screw in a light bulb.