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Guardians of Finance: Making Regulators Work for Us

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  • Posted March 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Persistent Lack of Accountability of Financial Regulators to the Public

    James Barth, Gerard Caprio, and Ross Levine methodically debunk the myth that the ongoing financial crisis is an accident. The authors relentlessly bring to light the decisive role that defective regulatory and political systems played in undermining the global financial system during the ten years or so before the start of the current financial crisis. Messrs. Barth, Caprio, and Levine convincingly demonstrate in this process that financial innovation, regulatory gaps, and insufficient regulatory powers were not the key drivers behind this downfall. The financial regulators adopted detrimental policies to the long-term sustainability of the global financial system and persevered with these misguided policies even in the presence of growing evidence about their deleterious effect on financial stability. The authors clearly explain why the financial regulators too often espoused the interests of the finance industry at the expense of those of the public. Think for example about bias in favor of the financial services industry (home field advantage), fast revolving door between industry and regulators, lobbying, and simplistic ideologies. Messrs. Barth, Caprio, and Levine come to the conclusion that the public is still in no position to pressure financial regulators to act in their interest, regardless of the current reforms enacted to strengthen the global financial system. Think for example about the evolving policies that the U.S. financial regulators have pursued since the nineteenth century. The answers to recurring crises have been the addition of new rules, the establishment of more regulatory agencies, the hiring of more regulators, and the granting of ever greater discretionary power to the U.S. financial regulators over an even larger portion of the financial system. These reforms are fleeting palliatives that fail to address the systemic institutional defects that continue to afflict the U.S. regulatory apparatus. Messrs. Barth, Caprio, and Levine propose the creation of what they call the Sentinel to establish a better balance between the interests of the public and those of the financial services industry. The Sentinel has to have five traits in order to significantly increase the pressure on the financial regulators to act in the public interest: 1. Independence of short-run politics; 2. Independence of the financial services industry; 3. The power to demand and obtain information necessary for assessing and monitoring the financial regulators; 4. Multidisciplinary expertise necessary for beneficially processing that information; 5. Prominence to deliver such an assessment to the public and its elected representatives in an ongoing manner that materially affects the open discussion of financial sector policies. The authors do not think that existing U.S. institutions such as the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), the Office of Financial Research (OFR), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) meet the five requirements mentioned above to qualify for the job description of the Sentinel. To their credit, Messrs. Barth, Caprio, and Levine acknowledge that the Sentinel is not a panacea. The Sentinel is a necessary component to boost governance and regulatory performance. In summary, the authors overwhelmingly demonstrate that the current financial crisis is far from being an accident.

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