Financial Services

Talking Points

  • Five years after the financial crisis of 2008, the problems that caused it still have not beenfixed.
  • The 2010 Dodd–Frank law did not resolve the problems and may have made them worse.
  • The principle of too-big-to-fail should be rejected. Rather than bailing out failing financial institutions, policymakers should create mechanisms under which large institutions fail without massive damage to the economy. This should include a streamlined liquidation process under the bankruptcy laws that provides a judicial proceeding delimited by the rule of law.
  • The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should be made accountable, with its funding appropriated by Congress and its powers clearly defined.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be dissolved with their portfolios gradually phased out.

The Issue

Five years after the financial collapse of 2008, the policy failures that it revealed still have not been resolved. The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, hurriedly enacted in 2010, does little to address these failures and in many ways actually makes things worse. Many parts of the law, ranging from price controls on debit cards to the creation of a new bureaucracy for consumer financial “protection,” have little to do with the financial crisis. Even where the legislation addresses the relevant problem, it misses the mark.

No issue in financial policy is more critical or more vexing than “too big to fail,” the concept that some firms are so important to the financial system that the government must intervene with bailouts or other support rather than let them go through the bankruptcy process. Instead of eliminating this doctrine, the Dodd–Frank Act reinforces it. A far better approach would be to establish bankruptcy provisions that would minimize the impact on the economy should a critical private institution fail.

Perhaps Dodd–Frank’s greatest weakness is that it completely neglected to address Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-created mortgage finance giants whose activities helped to create and exacerbate the 2008 financial crisis. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac issued trillions of dollars in mortgage-backed securities and, responding in part to congressionally mandated purchase requirements, speculated in their own securities and those issued by others. Full recovery from the housing crisis will not be possible until both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are phased out and replaced by a private-sector housing finance sector.


Recommendations

  1. Eliminate “too big to fail.” The authors of Dodd–Frank claimed to have eliminated the pernicious “too big to fail” policy, but they actually may have strengthened it. The law designates the largest banks as “systemically important financial institutions” and requires regulators to designate other financial institutions that are systemically important. Although the stated goal is to apply special regulation to these entities, the practical effect is to signal that these firms will not be allowed to fail, which reinforces rather than repeals too-big-to-fail.

    A far better approach would be to make it easier for large institutions to fail without massive damage to the economy. Dodd–Frank, acknowledging this need, created an “orderly liquidation” process to ensure speedy takedowns of failing firms. However, the Dodd–Frank process is run by federal regulators and gives them almost unfettered discretion to dispose of assets as they see fit—an invitation to cronyism. This procedure should be replaced by a streamlined liquidation process under the bankruptcy laws that provides a judicial proceeding delimited by the rule of law.

  2. Fully Repeal Dodd–Frank’s Title X. Title X of Dodd–Frank empowers the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to regulate virtually every consumer financial product and service without direct oversight by Congress or the White House. The bureau is restructuring the mortgage market; devising restrictions on credit bureaus, education loans, overdraft policies, payday lenders, credit card plans, and prepaid cards; and amassing unverified complaints with which to assail creditors and bankers. Ample evidence shows that the bureau’s operations represent a radical departure from long-standing regulatory standards, and its inordinate control of consumer finance is constraining credit and harming the economy.
  3. Limit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The nation’s newest agency ranks among the most powerful and unaccountable ever established. In the absence of full repeal of Title X, lawmakers should, at the very least, change the bureau’s current automatic funding mechanism (currently set by law as a fixed percentage of the Federal Reserve’s operating budget) and bring it under the appropriations process. Further, the CFPB’s powers should be limited and explicitly defined.
  4. Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage giants, must be shut down completely and permanently. Both entities distort the market by issuing mortgage-backed securities with subsidized government guarantees that the mortgages will be repaid. If such guarantees are necessary, they should be priced and issued by the private sector. Congress should take steps to liquidate Fannie and Freddie’s mortgage portfolio and to ensure that they are not simply replaced by a new government-sponsored agency.

Facts & Figures

  • Dodd–Frank’s 2,300 pages call for 243 rulemakings and 67 reports by federal agencies, according to a report by the Davis–Polk law firm, which regularly tracks the progress of Dodd–Frank’s implementation.
  • According to a report by Davis–Polk, as of January 2, 2014, a total of 280 Dodd–Frank deadlines had passed. Of these, 47 percent have been missed.
  • The Government Accountability Office released a study in early July 2011 saying that U.S. regulators do not yet know enough about Wall Street’s proprietary trading to police it effectively.

Selected Additional Resources

Heritage Experts on Financial Services


  • James Gattuso

    Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy


  • Diane Katz

    Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy


  • John Ligon

    Senior Policy Analyst


  • Norbert Michel

    Research Fellow

To talk to one of our experts, please contact us by phone at 202-608-1515 or by email.