History teaches that when government bureaucracies try to direct economies, stifled creativity, distorted markets and low economic growth are inevitable results. One of the easiest and most insidious ways for bureaucrats to control the U.S. economy is through the banks, directing who gets – and who can’t get – loans and other essential banking services. That’s happening today, and it ought to alarm and frighten all of us.
Published WorkRSS articles by William Isaac
With sharp insight and the cynicism natural to a Chicago politician, Rahm Emanuel famously pronounced in 2008, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” A crisis, he continued, “provides the opportunity … to do things that you could not do before.” How true.
For those who wanted to greatly expand the power of government over banks and nonbank financial institutions and markets, especially to expand the discretionary power of unelected agencies; to do so outside the control of the Congress and the judiciary; and to move the financial sector toward bureaucratically directed, rather than market, outcomes, the financial crisis of 2007-9 was indeed a great opportunity. Unfortunately for the economy and private sector job growth, the political actors most definitely did not let the crisis go to waste.
So we got the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010. Dodd-Frank is part of a predictable pattern, as were the previous overreactions to various corporate scandals. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, remember, was supposed to assure the identification and management of risk. It didn’t work. Neither will Dodd-Frank. Two other major banking crises during our careers were the real estate bust of 1974-76 and the multiple disasters of 1980-1992. In each case, Congress responded by piling on more burdensome laws and regulations. Each time, it failed to prevent the next crisis.
There are more payday loan stores in the U.S. than all the McDonald’s and Starbucks stores combined. It’s clear that tens of millions of consumers across the nation want and feel they need this product. It’s equally clear that government policymakers believe they know what’s best for consumers.
Recent actions taken by the federal government to eliminate a variety of short-term loan products suggest a strong bias against all such loans – period. If so, regulators need to reconsider before they destroy a critical source of credit for families and the economy as a whole.
I want to make a couple of things clear before proceeding. Until April when I reach mandatory board retirement age, I am chairman of Fifth Third Bancorp, which is one of four large banking companies to recently abandon very popular short-term lending products in response to regulatory pressure. Also, my consulting firm has done regulatory compliance work for one or more payday lending firms. I’m not speaking for those companies.Posted: Feb 21, 2014