July 16, 2015
The Department of Treasury has issued a report, Dodd-Frank at Five Years: Reforming Wall Street and Protecting Main Street. The report is clearly a political document, trumpeting the achievements of the Obama Administration. It is interesting nonetheless. It opens,
When President Obama took office in January 2009, the U.S. economy was in crisis. The nation was shedding more than 750,000 jobs per month, and confidence in our financial system had been shaken to its core. The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression exposed a toxic mix of excessive risk-taking, shoddy lending practices, inadequate capital levels, unstable funding, and weaknesses in regulatory oversight. A collapsing financial system choked off credit to consumers seeking to purchase a car, a home, groceries, or to finance an education. Nearly 9 million Americans lost their jobs, and over 5 million lost their homes. Nearly $13 trillion of families’ wealth was destroyed, wiping out almost two decades of gains.
In response to the crisis, the Administration released a proposed set of reforms in June 2009. Congress held numerous hearings and crafted legislation based on the Administration’s proposal, incorporating ideas from both Republicans and Democrats throughout the process. On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act into law, a historic and comprehensive set of financial reforms, which put in place critical new protections for consumers, investors, and taxpayers. Five years later—as a result of Dodd-Frank and other Wall Street reforms—our financial system is stronger, safer, more resilient, and more supportive of sustainable economic growth. Regulators also have better tools to deal with financial shocks when they occur, to protect Main Street and taxpayers from Wall Street recklessness.
Critics of reform have claimed that Wall Street Reform would deter lending and choke off the recovery. But, today it is clear that the opposite is true. Reform has served as a building block for economic growth, providing Americans with safe places to invest their savings and enabling banks to lend to individuals, businesses, and communities. Only a financial system strong enough to withstand a major financial shock is capable of promoting sustainable economic growth. Five years after the President signed Wall Street Reform into law, nearly all of the major elements of financial reform are in place. Today, our financial system is safer and stronger as a result of these hard-won reforms, and our economy is in a far better position to continue growing and creating jobs. (1)
I was struck by the fact that the report does not address the biggest financial reform failure of the last five years, the lack of reform of the housing finance system. Fannie and Freddie remain in conservatorship, putting the housing finance system at risk of another crisis.
I was also struck by the following passage:
In the run-up to the financial crisis, abusive lending practices and unclear underwriting standards resulted in risky mortgages which hurt consumers and ultimately threatened financial stability. Wall Street Reform bans many of the abusive practices in mortgage markets that helped cause the crisis, and requires lenders to determine that borrowers can repay their loans. (2)
My recollection from academic conferences over the course of the last six or seven years is that many leading academics denied the link between abusive lending practices and systemic risk. It seemed pretty clear to me, but I was in the minority on that one. I am glad to see that at least the Treasury agrees with me.| Permalink