World’s Second Most Powerful Woman Speaks Unopposed

Do you know where you rank on the world’s most powerful lists? Didn’t think so. Me neither. Former Chairperson of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Sheila Bair does. And she’ll tell you, as she did at a gathering of two or three hundred people for a lunch promoting her book, “Bull by the Horns: fighting to save Main Street from Wall Street and Wall Street from itself.” (According to Forbes, Bair peaked at #2 after Angela Merkel, but dropped to the top of the unranked list in recent years, in case you were wondering.)

An investment management professional for whom I worked described Bair as his favorite regulator, but those words were not often heard on Wall Street. Bair believes that the banks have dodged responsibility for the Wall Street meltdown and that lax regulation might lead us down the same path again. She battled and lost in the regulatory wars with Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner.

Here are 11 observations. (You get an extra one if you are that powerful.)

  1. The mortgage meltdown was not a 100-year flood. Mortgage standards were in the toilet and some of the products were terrible.
  2. The vast increase in leverage in the system was easy to see, and these resulted from the desire to juice return on equity while keeping access to the insured deposit safety net.
  3. It is never a good time to regulate, at least according to the lobbyists. When times are good, it is unnecessary and, when they are bad, it will constrain credit and impede recovery. There is tremendous lobbying pressure against almost any regulation.
  4. Micro rule-making at the edges won’t sort out anything; a wholesale fix is needed.
  5. The government fundamentally failed to do its job in the mortgage crisis.
  6. In answer to a question about excessive risk inherent in current economic policy, Bair replied, “yes.”
  7. Incentives to borrow and spend are not sustainable, and risk averse investors like pension funds are being ill served by current policies.
  8. Regulatory capture (excessive industry influence over its regulators) is one of Washington’s few bipartisan activities. Campaign finance, media influence, the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington plus store-bought academics are the primary culprits.
  9. The failure to consolidate the regulatory agencies is nothing but turf and politics. Leaving the SEC and the CFTC separate is silly. Congress is the problem.
  10. Get rid of FNMA and Freddie Mac.
  11. The expansion of home ownership, often blamed on Barney Frank, was a rationalization to create more profits not a policy objective. In essence, he is being blamed for doing the banks the favor they requested.

Unusually candid remarks, but it is not hard to see why Bair ruffled many feathers. A Republican of the Elizabeth Warren School.

2 Responses to “World’s Second Most Powerful Woman Speaks Unopposed”

Ashley Higgins, March 10, 2013 at 7:36 am said:

“5. The government fundamentally failed to do its job in the mortgage crisis.”

I guess that depends upon what you say the government’s job is. The government certainly took care of its own then and continues to do so now. You may call it the “no labels” system. Down here we call it the “good ole boy” system. Kind of works like a plantation.

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Lorelei Kelly, March 10, 2013 at 11:13 am said:

Thanks for this nice concise overview. Very important words, indeed!

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