My Ideal Financial Reform Bill
A reader asked me for this.
1. Extricate the government from the mortgage market as soon as is practical. I foresee reducing the maximum mortgage amounts that of Freddie and Fannie to zero in stages over a period of three years, then selling off their portfolios two years after that. I would even get rid of FHA. I would also get rid of the mortgage interest deduction. My guess is that the market would evolve toward higher down payments, and probably toward mortgages like the Canadian five-year rollover.
2. Housing aid to poor people would take the form of vouchers. No other Federal involvement in housing.
3. I would support a law that says that lenders must not make loans with the intent of exploiting borrower ignorance. Allow case law to develop to define rules and norms in support of that principle, rather than try to come up with fool-proof regulations.
4. Break up the top 10 banks into 40 banks. I think that is the best solution to the “too big to fail” problem, although there is no perfect solution to Minsky-type financial cycles.
5. Replace capital requirements with systems that put senior creditors in line to lose money in a default. Let them discipline the risk-taking of financial institutions.
6. Define priorities for creditors in a bank bankruptcy. I think that the solution to the social value–or lack thereof–of derivatives and other exotic instruments can be handled by the priority assigned to them. I would assign them a low priority. That is, first ordinary depositors get paid off. Then holders of ordinary debt. Other contracts, such as swaps or derivatives, come after that. I think that this would provide all the incentives needed either to curb derivatives or lead them to be traded on an organized exchange. I don.t think that getting them onto an organized exchange should be sought after as an end in itself.
7. Get rid of the corporate income tax, which encourages excess leverage. If the private sector, including banks, had lower debt/equity ratios, the financial system would be sounder.
8. Develop emergency response teams and backup systems that can ensure that the basic components of the financial system, particularly transaction processing, can survive various disaster scenarios, both technological and financial.
The overarching principle I have is that we should try to make the financial system easy to fix. The more you try to make it harder to break, the more recklessly people will behave. By reducing the incentives for debt finance and for exotic finance, you help promote a financial system that breaks the way the Dotcom bubble broke, with much lesser secondary consequences.