If only they knew what they were doing


You don't have to go very far these days to find those telling us that the solution to all woes is more regulation. That government, that collection of solons, the wise and the caring in collective action, can fix all these sharp edges of life for us. Leave aside for a moment whether this is desirable or even theoretically possible and look at what happens in reality. When "fixing" the financial markets through regulation, the Dodd-Frank law has just closed down the entire market for securitised loans.

Ford Motor Co.’s financing arm pulled plans to issue new debt, the first casualty of a bond market thrown into turmoil by the financial overhaul signed into law Wednesday. Market participants said the auto maker pulled a recent deal, backed by packages of auto loans, because it was unable to use credit ratings in its offering documents, a legal requirement for such sales. The company declined to comment.

The nation’s dominant ratings firms have in recent days refused to allow their ratings to be used in bond registration statements. The firms, including Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, fear they will be exposed to new liability created by the Dodd-Frank law. The law says that the ratings firms can be held legally liable for the quality of their ratings. In response, the firms yanked their consent to use the ratings, hoping for a reprieve from the Securities and Exchange Commission or Congress.

 The trouble is that asset-backed bonds are required by law to include ratings in official documents. The result has been a shutdown of the market for asset-backed securities, a $1.4 trillion market that only recently clawed its way back to health after being nearly shuttered by the financial crisis.

Now it's even possible that closing down the market for securitised loans is the right thing to do, not that I would agree with such a plan. It's also even possible that if regulation was cooked up, drafted, by solons, by the wise and caring in collective action, that it would be a good idea.

But when regulation is in fact put together by whoever looks best kissing babies, when regulation is 2,300 pages which no one single person has actually read, no, not even those voting on it, let alone understood, well, perhaps regulation of this sort isn't all that good an idea?

And given that this is how regulations are put together, this is how our laws are made, why are so many people convinced that it's a good idea?