Publications on Dodd-Frank
Research Project Report, April 2015 | April 2015This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
This is the fourth in a series of reports summarizing the findings of the Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, directed by Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray. This project explores alternative methods of providing a government safety net in times of crisis. In the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the United States used two primary responses: a stimulus package approved and budgeted by Congress, and a complex and unprecedented response by the Federal Reserve. The project examines the benefits and drawbacks of each method, focusing on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency.
The project has also explored the possibility of reform that might place more responsibility for provision of a safety net on Congress, with a smaller role to be played by the Fed, enhancing accountability while allowing the Fed to focus more closely on its proper mission. Given the rise of shadow banking—a financial system that operates largely outside the reach of bank regulators and supervisors—the Fed faces a complicated problem. It might be necessary to reform finance, through downsizing and a return to what Hyman Minsky called “prudent banking,” before we can reform the Fed.
This report describes the overall scope of the project and summarizes key findings from the three previous reports, as well as additional research undertaken in 2014.Download:Associated Program:
Working Paper No. 791 | March 2014
Myth and Misunderstanding
It is commonplace to speak of central bank “independence” as if it were both a reality and a necessity. While the Federal Reserve is subject to the “dual mandate,” it has substantial discretion in its interpretation of the vague call for high employment and low inflation. Most important, the Fed’s independence is supposed to insulate it from political pressures coming from Congress and the US Treasury to “print money” to finance budget deficits. As in many developed nations, this prohibition was written into US law from the founding of the Fed in 1913. In practice, the prohibition is easy to evade, as we found during World War II, when budget deficits ran up to a quarter of US GDP. If a central bank stands ready to buy government bonds in the secondary market to peg an interest rate, then private banks will buy bonds in the new-issue market and sell them to the central bank at a virtually guaranteed price. Since central bank purchases of securities supply the reserves needed by banks to buy government debt, a virtuous circle is created, so that the treasury faces no financing constraint. That is what the 1951 Accord was supposedly all about: ending the cheap source of US Treasury finance. Since the global financial crisis hit in 2007, these matters have come to the fore in both the United States and the European Monetary Union, with those worried about inflation warning that the central banks are essentially “printing money” to keep sovereign-government borrowing costs low.
This paper argues that the Fed is not, and should not be, independent, at least in the sense in which that term is normally used. The Fed is a “creature of Congress,” created by public law that has evolved since 1913 in a way that not only increased the Fed’s assigned responsibilities but also strengthened congressional oversight. The paper addresses governance issues, which, a century after the founding of the Fed, remain somewhat unsettled. While the Fed should be, and appears to be, insulated from day-to-day political pressures, it is subject to the will of Congress. Further, the Fed cannot really be independent from the Treasury, because the Fed is the federal government’s bank, with almost all payments made by and to the government running through the Fed. As such, there is no “operational independence” that would allow the Fed to refuse to allow the Treasury to spend appropriated funds. Finally, the paper addresses troubling issues raised by the Fed’s response to the global financial crisis; namely, questions about transparency, accountability, and democratic governance.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 735 | November 2012
The Federal Reserve has been criticized for not preventing the risky behavior of large financial companies prior to the financial crisis of 2008–09, for approving mergers that aggravated the “too big to fail” problem, and for its substantial contribution to bailouts when their risk management failed. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, in attempting to diminish financial instability and eliminate too-big-to-fail policies, has established a new regulatory framework and laid out new responsibilities for the Federal Reserve. In doing so, it appears to address criticisms of the central bank by constricting its autonomy. The law, however, has also extended the Federal Reserve’s supervisory authority and expanded its capacity to exercise regulatory control over its extended domain. This new authority is in addition to the augmentation of its monetary powers over the past several years.
This paper reviews and evaluates both constraints imposed on the Federal Reserve by the Dodd-Frank Act and the expansion of Federal Reserve authority. It finds that the constraints are unlikely to have much impact, but the expansion of authority constitutes a significant increase in power and influence. The paper concludes that the expansion of Federal Reserve authority invites questions about the organizational design and governance of the central bank, and its traditional autonomy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Bernard Shull
Public Policy Brief No. 125, 2012 | August 2012
No Solution for Financial ReformBefore the law has even been fully implemented, the inadequacies of the regulatory approach underlying the Dodd-Frank Act are becoming more and more apparent. Financial scandal by financial scandal, the realization is hardening that there is a pressing need to search for more robust regulatory alternatives.
The real challenge for financial reform is to develop a vision for a financial structure that would simplify the system and the activities of financial institutions so that they can be regulated and supervised effectively. Some paths to such simplification, however, are not worth treading. Against the backdrop of renewed present-day interest in the Depression-era “Chicago Plan,” featuring 100 percent reserve backing for deposits, Senior Scholar Jan Kregel turns to Hyman Minsky’s consideration of a similar “narrow banking” proposal in the mid-1990s. For reasons that eventually led Minsky himself to abandon the proposal, as well as reasons developed here by Kregel that have even more pressing relevance in today’s political climate, plans for a narrow banking system are found wanting.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2012/6 | June 2012
What a Hedge Gone Awry at JPMorgan Chase Tells Us about What's Wrong with Dodd-Frank
What can we learn from JPMorgan Chase’s recent self-proclaimed “stupidity” in attempting to hedge the bank’s global risk position? Clearly, the description of the bank’s trading as “sloppy” and reflecting ”bad judgment” was designed to prevent the press reports of large losses from being used to justify the introduction of more stringent regulation of large, multifunction financial institutions. But the lessons to be drawn are not to be found in the specifics of the hedges that were put on to protect the bank from an anticipated decline in the value of its corporate bond holdings, or in any of its other global portfolio hedging activities. The first lesson is this: despite their acumen in avoiding the worst excesses of the subprime crisis, the bank’s top managers did not have a good idea of its exposure, which serves as evidence that the bank was “too big to manage.” And if it was too big to manage, it was clearly too big to regulate effectively.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 30 | May 2012
Hyman Minsky had particular views about how the regulatory system and financial architecture should be reformulated, and one of the many lessons we can learn from his work is that there is an intimate connection between how we think about the prospect of financial market instability and how we approach financial regulation. Regulation cannot be effective if it is simply based on “piecemeal” measures produced in response to the current “moment,” Minsky wrote. It needs to reformulate the structure of the financial system itself.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Beyond the Minsky Moment: Where We’ve Been, Why We Can’t Go Back, and the Road Ahead for Financial Reform
eBook, April 2012 | April 2012This eBook traces the roots of the 2008 financial meltdown to the structural and regulatory changes leading from the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act to the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, and on through to the subprime-triggered crash. It evaluates the regulatory reactions to the global financial crisis—most notably, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act—and, with the help of Minsky’s work, sketches a way forward in terms of stabilizing the financial system and providing for the capital development of the economy.
The book explains how money manager capitalism set the stage for the outbreak of the systemic crisis and debt deflation through which we are still living. And it explains that, despite calls for a return to Glass-Steagall, we cannot turn back the clock. Minsky’s blueprint for a more stable structure is smaller banks and the restoration of relationship banking. Modifying and extending his idea for creating a bank holding company would preserve some of the features of Glass-Steagall.
Research Project Report, April 10, 2012 | April 2012This monograph is part of the Institute’s research program on Financial Instability and the Reregulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, funded by the Ford Foundation. Its purpose is to investigate the causes and development of the recent financial crisis from the point of view of the late financial economist and Levy Distinguished Scholar Hyman Minsky, and to propose “a thorough, integrated approach to our economic problems.”
The monograph draws on Minsky’s work on financial regulation to assess the efficacy of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, enacted in response to the 2008 subprime crisis and subsequent deep recession. Some two years after its adoption, the implementation of Dodd-Frank is still far from complete. And despite the fact that a principal objective of this legislation was to remove the threat of taxpayer bailouts for banks deemed “too big to fail,” the financial system is now more concentrated than ever and the largest banks even larger. As economic recovery seems somewhat more assured and most financial institutions have regrouped sufficiently to repay the governmental support they received, the specific rules and regulations required to make Dodd-Frank operational are facing increasing resistance from both the financial services industry and from within the US judicial system.
This suggests that the Dodd-Frank legislation may be too extensive, too complicated, and too concerned with eliminating past abuses to ever be fully implemented, much less met with compliance. Indeed, it has been called a veritable paradise for regulatory arbitrage. The result has been a call for a more fundamental review of the extant financial legislation, with some suggesting a return to a regulatory framework closer to Glass-Steagall’s separation of institutions by function—a cornerstone of Minsky’s extensive work on regulation in the 1990s. For Minsky, the goal of any systemic reform was to ensure that the basic objectives of the financial system—to support the capital development of the economy and to provide a safe and secure payments system—were met. Whether the Dodd-Frank Act can fulfill this aspect of its brief remains an open question.
Research Project Report, April 9, 2012 | April 2012This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
In the current financial crisis, the United States has relied on two primary methods of extending the government safety net: a stimulus package approved and budgeted by Congress, and a massive and unprecedented response by the Federal Reserve in the fulfillment of its lender-of-last-resort function. This monograph examines the benefits and drawbacks of each method, focusing on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency. The aim is to explore the possibility of reform that would place more responsibility for provision of a safety net on Congress, with a smaller role to be played by the Fed, not only enhancing accountability but also allowing the Fed to focus more closely on its proper mission.
Working Paper No. 709 | February 2012
Motives, Countermeasures, and the Dodd-Frank Response
Government forbearance, support, and bailouts of banks and other financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” (TBTF) are widely recognized as encouraging large companies to take excessive risk, placing smaller ones at a competitive disadvantage and influencing banks in general to grow inefficiently to a “protected” size and complexity. During periods of financial stress, with bailouts under way, government officials have promised “never again.” During periods of financial stability and economic growth, they have sanctioned large-bank growth by merger and ignored the ongoing competitive imbalance.
Repeated efforts to do away with TBTF practices over the last several decades have been unsuccessful. Congress has typically found the underlying problem to be inadequate regulation and/or supervision that has permitted important financial companies to undertake excessive risk. It has responded by strengthening regulation and supervision. Others have located the underlying problem in inadequate regulators, suggesting the need for modifying the incentives that motivate their behavior. A third explanation is that TBTF practices reflect the government’s perception that large financial firms serve a public interest—they constitute a “national resource” to be preserved. In this case, a structural solution would be necessary. Breakups of the largest financial firms would distribute the “public interest” among a larger group than the handful that currently hold a disproportionate concentration of financial resources.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 constitutes the most recent effort to eliminate TBTF practices. Its principal focus is on the extension and augmentation of regulation and supervision, which it envisions as preventing excessive risk taking by large financial companies; Congress has again found the cause for TBTF practices in the inadequacy of regulation and supervision. There is no indication that Congress has given any credence to the contention that regulatory motivations have been at fault. Finally, Dodd-Frank eschews a structural solution, leaving the largest financial companies intact and bank regulatory agencies still with extensive discretion in passing on large bank mergers. As a result, the elimination of TBTF will remain problematic for years to come.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Bernard Shull
Research Project Report, April 12, 2011 | April 2011
Will Dodd-Frank Prevent "It" from Happening Again? `This monograph is part of the Institute's ongoing research program on Financial Instability and the Reregulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, funded by the Ford Foundation. This program's purpose is to investigate the causes and development of the recent financial crisis from the point of view of the late financial economist and Levy Distinguished Scholar Hyman P. Minsky. The monograph draws on Minsky's extensive work on regulation in order to review and analyze the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, enacted in response to the crisis in the US subprime mortgage market, and to assess whether this new regulatory structure will prevent "It"—a debt deflation on the order of the Great Depression—from happening again. It seeks to assess the extent to which the Act will be capable of identifying and responding to the endogenous generation of financial fragility that Minsky believed to be the root cause of financial instability, building on the views expressed in his published work, his official testimony, and his unfinished draft manuscript on the subject. Whether the Dodd-Frank Act will fulfill its brief—in part, "to promote the financial stability in the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end 'too big to fail,' to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, [and] to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices"—is an open question. As Minsky wrote in his landmark 1986 book Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, "A new era of reform cannot be simply a series of piecemeal changes. Rather, a thorough, integrated approach to our economic problems must be developed." This has been one of the organizing principles of our project.Download:Associated Program: