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April 17, 2014

Financial Reform Newsletter- April 16, 2014

Financial Reform Newsletter
April 16, 2014

 Financial Reform, the SEC and Better Markets Winning in the Courts. Wall Street’s too-dangerous-to-fail banks and their many allies have been trying to kill, gut or weaken financial reform by filing numerous lawsuits claiming that every rule must be subjected to what they call “cost-benefit analysis.” While this sounds reasonable, they really mean “industry cost-only analysis,” which not only fails to properly weight the public interest, but also prioritizes industry costs over everything else, including the public interest.  In addition to being one-sided on the wrong side, it is also costly, time-consuming, onerous and ultimately a fool’s errand because so many of the costs and benefits to the public simply cannot be quantified, as the court pointedly stated:

  “Even if one could estimate how many lives are saved or rapes prevented as a direct result of the final rule, doing so would be pointless because the costs of the rule – measured in dollars – would create an apples-to-bricks comparison.”

The same is true for more straightforward financial reform rules: a stable market less likely to crash and cause bailouts, transparency in the derivatives markets, investor confidence, deterring fraud and criminal market behavior, are all unquantifiable, as is the pain and suffering inflicted on American families from historically high unemployment, foreclosures, lost health care and from the rest of the economic wreckage caused by the financial crash. Yet, in Wall Street’s upside-down Alice-in-Wonderland world, no financial reform rule can be adopted to protect the American people from Wall Street recklessly crashing the global financial system again unless the rule doesn’t cost that very same industry too much.  Because it ignores the massive costs of the last crisis to the American people and the even larger benefits to them of avoiding the next crisis, that’s just nuts and, for the second time, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us.

While the case was primarily about the “conflict minerals” rule, the Court in NAM v. SEC, rejected industry arguments that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) must conduct what they call “cost-benefit analysis.”  This follows the holding of the Court last summer in Investment Company Institute v. CFTC, which similarly recognized that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) need not conduct a rigorous, quantitative cost-benefit analysis when it adopts derivatives rules under the Commodity Exchange Act.  Each of these decisions reflects arguments that Better Markets made in the amicus briefs it filed in those cases (here and here): the law does not require the SEC or the CFTC to do a cost-benefit analysis, only limited specified economic analysis; it would require agencies to second-guess Congress’ decision to protect the American people over industry profits; it needlessly delays the rulemaking process; and, it undervalues the many benefits of regulation, which often cannot be framed in dollars and cents.  This is a major victory, not only for the SEC and financial reform, but for the American people who deserve to be protected from Wall Street’s recklessness and more bailouts.  (Better Markets’ lengthy report on this issue can be found here and more information on the legislative, regulatory and legal fight can be found here.) 

Predatory HFT, Michael Lewis’ New Book “Flash Boys,” & Lots of Developments.  It is difficult to keep up with the avalanche of materials precipitated by the launch of Michael Lewis’ new book Flash Boys. The debate on high-frequency trading (HFT) has, if anything, actually been increasing.  Our view is that it will continue because the issues of ripping off investors, the lack of confidence in our markets and the virtual inevitability of another “flash crash” or worse aren’t going away and, now, no one can claim they didn’t know or were surprised when the next disaster strikes.  A few highlights/lowlights:

INET’s (the Institute for New Economic Thinking) annual conference.  Titled “Human After All: Innovation, Disruption, Society,” it was a blend of interesting speakers and interesting topics.  You should visit their website, check out the program and watch some of the videos of the panels and speakers.  You won’t be disappointed.  

And the Pulitzer goes to… Congratulations to Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press for winning the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary on the financial crisis facing his city.  Henderson’s incisive commentary on Detroit’s struggles over the years has served as a revealing exploration of one of the hardest hit regions in the U.S. after the 2008 financial crisis.  From his coverage of the streetlights going dark to Detroit’s filing for bankruptcy, Henderson has portrayed the plight of the people of Detroit left suffering from the worst economy since the Great Depression.




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