10 June 2017

The Biggest Danger of the GOP - Or What The Comey Hearing Drowned Out

Thursday, the House GOP passed a bill to repeal Dodd-Frank. Friday, the NASDAQ fell nearly 2%. Meanwhile, the world fixated on a UK election essentially won by the party already in power and a Comey testimony in which we learned that Trump lies. The news of the day was good cover for bad legislation. Really, really bad legislation.

A little story

A little town is divided among three groups. One group is pro-football, the other is anti-football and the third group is mostly neutral.

The anti-football group got that way because a couple of kids were seriously injured. One will be in a wheelchair for life. The anti- group simply argues that no sport is worth this risk.

The pro-football group are simply fans. They love the sport, point to the tradition, the way it gives the kids something to come together on and cheer for, the way it builds a sense of community, and how it calls young men to excellence. 

The problem is, the pro-football group has been hijacked by a sub-group so repulsed by the idea of rules to make the game safer that they've gone in the opposite direction. Call this group the football fanatics. They think that kids shouldn't even have to wear helmets if they don't want to - or can at least wear the old leather helmets that were good enough for players in the 1920s.

Here's the problem. The pro- group is only one or two spectacular injuries away from losing football altogether. And given the way the fanatics are approaching this - eliminating "silly rules that just slow down the game" like flags on late hits or tackles that involve helmet to helmet contact, etc., they have greatly raised the risk of serious injury.

The people who should be most grieved by the fanatics are the fans who care less about any specific rules of football than they do about just having the game in town. Because what the fanatics are doing is making it probable that the anti-football group will get their spectacular injuries that lead to cancelling the program.

The real story

Which brings us to capital markets.

Thursday, buried beneath the tsunami of coverage of the Comey hearing and UK election - the House passed a bill to repeal Dodd-Frank. Two major provisions of this bill set us up for another Great Recession: one provision exempts financial institutions from capital and liquidity requirements to allow them to take on more risk and another provision puts in place bankruptcy provisions in lieu of "orderly liquidation." So, financial institutions are free to take on more risk and when that risk leads to bank failure it won't be treated systematically. That is, it sets up the conditions for a run on the banks like the one that lead to the Great Depression. People will need to withdraw capital to protect themselves at the exact moment that the banking system would need more liquidity. 

Capital markets are one of the great inventions of mankind. Credit can finance the construction of high-speed trains or a cup of coffee, finance your education that launches your career or your house that becomes your home. Credit can finance research that cures an old cancer or a new product. The capital markets that have emerged since about 1700 have transformed our world, giving us longer lives, and making us more productive and happy. The joy football has brought into Americans lives is microscopic in comparison to what capital markets have brought. 

The Republicans are philosophically opposed to regulations. They are the pro-football fanatics who believe that the game of capitalism would be made better if only we removed all those troublesome rules that just get in the way of a good game. And while it's true that the game goes slower with rules and regulations, it also saves people from serious injury that comes from the failure of one or two big institutions becoming catalyst for a Great Recession. 

Real fans of football would shut out the fanatics who try to eliminate rules. Real fans of capital markets would do the same to the anti-regulation fanatics who - just years after the worst recession in nearly a century - are working to eliminate the regulations that save us from serious injury. Anyone who wants to see capital markets survive, evolve and prosper to continue to enable prosperity, will come out against this deregulation inspired by ideology. 

The biggest danger of the GOP's approach to repealing Dodd-Frank is that it will enable anti-capital market forces to make more coherent arguments against them. We now have a president who supports dictators; we can easily have a president in a decade who supports communists. If you love football, you would shut down the fanatics arguing against making it safer; if you love capital markets, you would shut down the fanatics working against making them safer. 

No comments: