The Money Problem

Professor Ricks

I recently read The Money Problem: Rethinking Financial Regulation by Morgan Ricks (University of Chicago Press 2016).  While it is not a book for the financially faint of heart, it does provide a great introduction to what money is and what banks and other financial intermediaries do. The back matter reads,

Years have passed since the world experienced one of the worst financial crises in history, and while countless experts have analyzed it, many central questions remain unanswered. Should money creation be considered a ‘public’ or ‘private’ activity—or both? What do we mean by, and want from, financial stability? What role should regulation play? How would we design our monetary institutions if we could start from scratch?

In The Money Problem, Morgan Ricks addresses all of these questions and more, offering a practical yet elegant blueprint for a modernized system of money and banking—one that, crucially, can be accomplished through incremental changes to the United States’ current system. He brings a critical, missing dimension to the ongoing debates over financial stability policy, arguing that the issue is primarily one of monetary system design. The Money Problem offers a way to mitigate the risk of catastrophic panic in the future, and it will expand the financial reform conversation in the United States and abroad.

I particularly recommend Part I to those trying to get their hands around money (the concept, not hard currency itself) and how it is created. Ricks reviews the “standard textbook description” of bank money creation and others’ account of it before providing his own “modified story.” (58-59)

Parts II and III provides a far-reaching blueprint for reforming the monetary system.  This reform agenda is not without its critics, but I think Ricks gives a fair reading to competing views so you can make up your own mind as to who is right.

Consumer Protection in Trouble under Trump

photo by www.cafecredit.com

The Dallas News quoted me in Agency That Protects Consumers from Financial Scammers in Trouble under Trump. It reads, in part,

Last week I asked 100 people in an audience, “How many of you have heard of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau?”

Only five people raised their hands.

I’m surprised. In the 240-year history of our nation, we never had a truly pro-consumer federal agency until five years ago. It’s working, but now we’re in danger of losing it.

If you use money or credit, take out loans, buy cars or pay on a mortgage, this bureau in Washington, D.C. is changing the way financial companies do business with you.

We might lose the bureau because big and small banks and other financial institutions hate it. They’re fighting it in court with lawsuits and with campaign contributions to members of Congress who will decide.

We might lose it because an area congressman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, is closer to achieving his goal of watering down the nation’s financial regulatory system — nicknamed Dodd-Frank.

Hensarling leads the House committee that gives thumbs up or down to financial bills. With that power in hand, he received more campaign donations from banks, insurance companies and the securities and investment industry than any other member of Congress, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics says.

And we might lose the bureau because we have a president who, unlike the previous president, will not veto Hensarling’s pro-Wall Street bill – The Financial Choice Act — that would rip Dodd-Frank apart.

Remember that Dodd-Frank and the bureau came about after the 2008 financial meltdown. The bureau is part of the master plan to make sure it never happens again.

Accomplishments

If you haven’t heard of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, I’ll take part of the blame. Maybe The Watchdog hasn’t placed a big enough spotlight on it.

It was the bureau that revealed how Wells Fargo employees created two million fraudulent customer accounts. The bureau fined Wells Fargo $100 million.

The bureau worked to get $120 million in refunds for military families by policing improper practices with mortgages, credit cards, student loans and other financial products aimed at the military.

The bureau created rules that prevented lenders from approving risky home mortgage loans and charging hidden fees to home buyers.

The bureau forced credit card issuers to pay hundreds of millions of dollars back to consumers because of illegal practices, unfair billing and deceptive marketing.

The bureau went after crooked bill collectors, check cashers and credit repair services.

The bureau forced the three major credit bureaus to make it easier to submit corrections to inaccurate information on your credit report.

In sum, the scoreboard shows the bureau’s big number at $12 billion. That’s how much the bureau claims it has refunded to consumers or zeroed out when their invalid debts were canceled.

No wonder Wall Street, its golden boy Hensarling and the corps of dark-suited lobbyists want this darn thing rubbed out. Quickly.

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Back to Bad Loans?

One who has studied government regulation tells me that financial institutions have adapted to the new order. The rules tamed the craziness that led to financial ruin nine years ago, says David Reiss, a professor at Brooklyn Law School.

Eliminating the bureau would force “a return to the dark old days when lenders could get away” with shadowy marketing practices, Reiss says.

“If the Trump administration were to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, consumers would have to be far more cautious when dealing with lenders,” he says. “There definitely would be a return to some of the predatory and abusive behavior. No one would be looking over the lender’s shoulder.”

The Fed’s Effect on Mortgage Rates

Federal Open Market Committee Meeting

Federal Open Market Committee Meeting

DepositAccounts.com quoted me in Types of Institutions in the U.S. Banking System – Investment Banks and Central Banks. It reads, in part,

Central Banks

Think of the central bank as the Grand Poobah of a country’s monetary system. In the U.S. that honor is bestowed upon the Federal Reserve. While there are other important central banks, like the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the People’s Bank of China. For now, focus stateside.

Think of the central bank as the Grand Poobah of a country’s monetary system. In the U.S. that honor is bestowed upon the Federal Reserve.

The Federal Reserve was created by the Congress to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system. The Federal Reserve was created on December 23, 1913, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law. To keep it simple, think of the Fed as having responsibility in these four areas:

  1. conducting the nation’s monetary policy by influencing money and credit conditions in the economy in pursuit of full employment and stable prices;
  2. supervising and regulating banks and other important financial institutions to ensure the safety and soundness of the nation’s banking and financial system and to protect the credit rights of consumers;
  3. maintaining the stability of the financial system and containing systemic risk that may arise in financial markets
  4. providing certain financial services to the U.S. government, U.S. financial institutions, and foreign official institutions, and playing a major role in operating and overseeing the nation’s payments systems.

You need look no further than the Federal Reserve FAQs to learn more about how it is structured.

The Federal Reserve may not take your money, but be clear it has much financial impact on your life. Brooklyn Law Professor David Reiss gives one example, “The Federal Reserve can have an impact on the interest rate you pay on your mortgage. Since the financial crisis, the Fed has fostered accommodative financial conditions which kept interest rates low. It has done this a number of ways, including through its monetary policy actions. The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee sets targets for the federal funds rate. The federal funds rate, in turn, influences interest rates for purchases, refinances and home equity loans.”

Money ‘n Trees

tree fallen on house

Money quoted me in 4 Things to Know Before You Prune a Tree. It opens,

It turns out money does grow on trees. Mature specimens can add 10% or more to your property value, according to Greenwich, Conn., arborist and tree appraiser Scott Cullen. But trees can cost big money, too—if a giant oak falls and crushes your garage during the next big storm, for example. Here’s what you need to know about maintaining the trees on your property.

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Understand insurance coverage

In urban and suburban neighborhoods, it’s common for trees to grow along property lines. As a general rule, the owner of the property where the tree meets the ground is the owner of the tree—and responsible for it, says real estate attorney and professor of law at Brooklyn Law School David Reiss. If you own an obviously diseased and dying tree that falls and damages a neighbor’s house or, worse, hurts someone, you could be financially liable for the damage. But in general, if it’s a healthy tree that has been routinely cared for and inspected by a professional, the owners of the property that gets damaged by your tree will likely be covered by their own insurance for damage to their buildings or vehicles.

Know your right to prune

Just as leaves and branches that fall on your land are yours to clean up, regardless of whose tree they came from, you also generally have the right to trim any part of a tree that’s on your property. So if a limb from your neighbor’s tree is bringing squirrels onto your roof or dropping walnuts onto your new car, you are within your rights to have the limb removed. You can’t cut it beyond your property line, however, and if any trimming you do were to kill the tree (or render it unstable or unhealthy), you could be liable for paying its owner for lost value.

In any case, living by the letter of the law is rarely the best solution when it comes to neighborhood relations. Discuss tree issues with all parties involved before anyone fires up a chainsaw, says Reiss. If a tree is yours—in other words, if it leaves the ground in your yard—it’s essentially your tree and your responsibility to keep properly maintained and pruned. Even if you technically aren’t responsible for shaping the limbs over on the neighbor’s side, the increased cost for doing that while a tree guy is on site is well worth the good relations it will engender. If the tree trunk splits the property line, discuss the needed tree work and ask your neighbor to split the bill.