Tag Archives: financial regulation

Financial Regulation Does Not Hinder Growth

David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal wrote a column today in which he proposes that the US has to choose between economic stability and economic growth. I am usually on board with Wessel, who does not follow the Journal’s usual slash and burn libertarianism, but in this case I think he’s wrong. His dichotomy is false.

The regulation that Wessel is discussing is financial regulation to curb the boom and bust cycle that we have just lived through. He asks whether “wise government rule to prevent market excesses” would also prevent the dynamic innovation that fuels economic growth. I answer emphatically NO.

As I noted yesterday, financial innovation is unrelated to business innovation. In yesterday’s post, I pointed out that the companies driving recent growth – the Googles of the world – have not depending on the innovations coming out of Wall Street. But today I will go even further. Between World War II and the S&L crisis, we had a long period of mostly financial stability, without the crises we’ve seen since then, and with a regulatory regime that had general consensus on Wall Street and in Washington. That long period of stability didn’t hinder economic growth; in fact, as the graph below shows it was one of the greatest growth periods in our nation.  Notice how much higher the growth is (the red lines) before the S&L crisis in the mid-1980’s.

Growth in GDP

Growth in GDP after WWII

I would argue that not only did financial stability and economic growth coexist during this period, but that the stability was actually helping the growth. After all, it’s a lot easier for companies to plan and budget if the financial markets are not booming and busting. And potential entrepreneurs are more likely to take the leap and start a new business if they aren’t worried about their retirement savings disappearing in a Wall Street flame-out.

So let’s not worry about financial regulation slowing down growth. Let’s focus on smart regulation that will spur growth.

Paul Volcker on Financial Regulation

Speaking of reasonable voices when it comes to financial regulation (see my post below), Paul Volcker is coming out strong for a much more rigorous set of regulations. Volcker ran the Federal Reserve before Alan Greenspan, and was considered a guru while Greenspan was still ladling Ayn Rand’s soup on Saturday nights.

Here is a link to an interview Volcker gave to the WSJ, and here is a link to a New Republic article by Simon Johnson about that interview.

The money quote from Volcker: “I have found very little evidence that vast amounts of innovation in financial markets in recent years have had a visible effect on the productivity of the economy.”

Again, that is a voice of reason. We all agree that capital markets are important to the economy, and that some financial innovation is a good thing. For example, developing ways for big companies to hedge their raw materials risks can help the economy. But developing ever more complicated derivatives and securities which are backed by securities which are backed by securities which are backed by assets?  How do those innovations help the economy?

This last point is the one that puts the lie to free market ideologues. They say that financial innovation is key to fueling the American economy. But financial innovation has nothing to do with the economy outside of Wall Street. Think about the great engines of American growth that these ideologues love to mention: Wal-Mart, Apple, Home Depot, Google or Tommy Hilfiger. They all grew large and hired thousands of people without building their business on credit default swaps or mortgage backed securities. None of them care about the hundredth of a penny reduction in spread that dark pool trading creates. Real innovation in the American economy is disassociated with Wall Street. The only thing that Wall Street innovation drives is Wall Street pay packages.