Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finance Reform: A Bullet to the Brain

The issues underlying financial "reform" are incredibly complex. Yet, it is utterly banal, average people, with average (or less) knowledge of the subject who will pass laws to force financial practitioners to act in a certain way. Imagine a quack who could pass a law telling a dentist how to pull a tooth. Financial "reform" will be equally painful, although the pain will be spread over decades and be much harder to detect. If one needs a visualization of how regulation is simply force that negates the mind, think of that dentist and the quack-regulator.

The other consequence of the complexity of the financial mess is that it becomes nearly impossible to fight financial "reform" except at the philosophical level. Philosophically, the broad case for capitalism is made by Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. It validates reason and individual rights, the base of capitalism. However, the battle must also be fought at the level of economics, and on that level the issues are simply too complex to fight something as "real-time" as this bill.

At the level of economics, unraveling the mess means understanding how a history of financial intervention dating back to our country's founding has cumulated into the current mess. We have the consequences of the state laws against branch banking, the government's ossification of the gold standard after the Civil War, the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank, the 1930s laws (Glass-Steagall, the SEC), government-sponsored securitization of mortgage finance (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, also beginning in the 1930s), Regulation Q, laws against corporate takeovers, the final abandonment of the gold standard in the late 1960s, laws that restrict the trading of derivatives on exchanges, etc.

The consequences of each of these laws can be traced, sometimes through spans of time longer than a century, all the way up to the present day. Each of them was involved in the current crisis (and each was passed in response to bad consequences stemming from the prior laws). The solution requires the repeal of all of them, and the establishment of free, private banking in a form that has never existed in this country.

This is the type of case that must be made on economic terms and is the proper context for the congressional hearings on financial reform. However, very few people can present such a case. Certainly, none of them have appeared in these hearings.

Bottom line: The quacks are going to tell those of us in finance how to practice our craft. Finance is the "brains" of capitalism. It allocates capital to where it can create the most wealth. Our economy's brain is about to take another bullet.