Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Will Walmart, IBM and Boeing pay for the next bailout?

In The Wall Street Journal, former Bush Treasury official, Gregory Zerzan warns of the blatant overreach of the financial reform bills winding their way through the Congress, and makes the case that "current proposals for "financial" reform are stalking horses allowing government intervention into virtually every facet of the U.S. economy."  The proposed banking regulations extend to "nonbank financial companies" as determined by the Federal Reserve:
The list of companies that might find themselves subject to new Federal Reserve regulation is as deep as the U.S. economy itself. An airplane manufacturer that holds customer down payments for future delivery, a large home improvement chain that invests its profits as part of a plan to increase revenues, and an energy firm that makes markets in derivatives are all engaged in "financial activities" and potentially subject to systemic risk regulation. Under the House bill, and even more so under the Dodd legislation, companies that had absolutely nothing to do with the financial crisis of 2008 are finding that they are the object of so-called "financial services reform".

Why would the systemic risk regulator seek to make regular American businesses subject to bank-like regulation? No doubt in part it is the belief in some quarters that the government can stop financial crises from happening if only it has enough power and influence over the economy. Even among true believers the near-collapse of the highly regulated banking sector should call that article of faith into question. But there is a more practical reason to seek to turn Walmart, IBM, Boeing and other Fortune 500 companies into "financial" businesses. Under both the House bill and the Dodd legislation it is these companies that are to be taxed to pay for winding up a "too big to fail" firm. If a company gets deemed systemically risky it is on the hook for bailing out financial firms that took on too much risk. Such a regime is neither fair nor sensible from an economic perspective, but existing taxpayers' money is already over-allocated; the Treasury needs the contents of new wallets to pay for the next crisis.

Senator Dodd's systemic risk proposal would authorize the Federal Reserve to have an unprecedented role in regulating the U.S. economy. This proposition deserves more scrutiny and debate than it has thus far received.
The idea that government regulation of the private sector can prevent the next national financial crisis is dubious at best.  Considering the roles that the heavily regulated banking sector and the government-backed behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac played in the recent financial meltdown, I would even call such an idea laughable.  I think Mr. Zerzan is absolutly correct.  The Democrats are just looking for new wallets to raid.

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