Dodd-Frank a total failure, bipartisan panel agrees

The 2010 Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is “a failure” that did not remove protections for “too-big-to-fail” banks and whose authority is a “paper tiger,” according to panelists at a conference on large financial institutions Wednesday.

While the mix of conservative and liberal speakers at an American Enterprise Institute discussion differed sharply on how to restore the country’s rigid financial industry, all agreed on one point: The 2010 law — commonly known as “Dodd-Frank” after its co-sponsors, then-Sen. Chris Dodd and then-Rep. Barney Frank — has utterly failed in its purpose of reducing the systemic risk posed by enormous financial institutions.

Former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman of Delaware called the “orderly liquidation authority” established by Dodd-Frank a paper tiger, noting that it is inadequate to handle the liquidation of insolvent financial institutions. Kaufman blamed heavy lobbying by financial firms — which he said accounted for more than 90 percent of the political activity around the passage of the 848-page bill — for the ineffective regulation of too-big-to-fail (TBTF) financial firms.

Peter Wallison, an AEI fellow in financial policy studies, seconded the view that the 2010 law is a bust. Since TBTF banks still have funding advantages over smaller competitors and endanger the stability of the financial system, “then we have to think that the Dodd-Frank Act was a failure,” Wallison told a packed room at the conference, which was entitled “Too big to tolerate? How to right-size America’s giant banks.”

Nevertheless, Wallison differed sharply with the other speakers in blaming regulation, instead of a lack of it, for the instability. He pointed to the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and the 2008 bank bailouts, both of which occurred in heavily regulated industries. “The orderly liquidation authority is the cause of the funding advantage” enjoyed by large banks, he said.

Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., agreed with Kaufman’s view that big banks need to be broken up — either through a renewed version of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act (which separated retail and investment banking, and which was repealed in 1999) or by adopting a new bill on capital reserve requirements co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana.

Wallison countered that, “It is not sensible policy to wring our hands about TBTF while creating the conditions for TBTF.”