The Corner

Dodd-Frank and Uncertainty

Remember how President Obama promised that the Dodd-Frank bill would provide certainty, stability and growth?

Provides Certainty To Everyone From Bankers To Famers To Business Owners To Consumers. [. . .] It provides certainty to everyone from bankers to farmers to business owners to consumers. And unless your business model depends on cutting corners or bilking your customers, you have nothing to fear from this reform.

That was the promise. What’s the reality? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is one I took last night of the book that lists the Dodd-Frank statutes:

It’s 1,623 pages long. It is very heavy. If it could fit it in my purse, I could use it as a protective weapon. Whatever else this will do, however, it will not make lending cheaper or credit more readily available, and it will not protect us from another financial crisis. And it will not protect consumers or taxpayers. 

What it will do, and already does, is continue injecting gigantic uncertainty into the economy, paralyzing entrepreneurship and job creation. Imagine how long it will take for all the rules to be written and for U.S. businesses to figure out how they are supposed to operate from now on. The vagueness of the law as written means that even business owners and consumers who have the courage to pick up this book and try to figure out what’s in their future won’t get the answers they are looking for.

Really, is there any doubt that some of the $2 trillion in cash that companies are sitting on is a direct result of this uncertainty?

Speaking of uncertainty, Bob Higgs’s piece from earlier this month on the consequences of regime uncertainty is a must-read. Here is a tidbit:

As I understand regime uncertainty, it has to do with widespread inability to form confident expectations about future private property rights in all of their dimensions. Private property rights specify the property owner’s rights to decide how property will be used, to accrue income from its uses, and to transfer these rights to others in various voluntary arrangements. Because the content of private property rights is complex, threats to such rights can arise from many different sources, including actions by legislators, administrators, prosecutors, judges, juries, and others (e.g., sit-down strikers, mobs).

Because of the great variety of ways in which government officials can threaten private property rights, the security of such rights turns not only on law “on the books,” but also to an important degree on the character of the government officials who administer and enforce the law. An important reason why regime uncertainty arose in the latter half of the 1930s, for example, had to do with the character of the advisers who had the greatest access to President Franklin Roosevelt at that time—people such as Tom Corcoran, Ben Cohen, William O. Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, and others of their ilk. These people were known to hate businessmen and the private enterprise system; they believed in strict, pervasive regulation of the market system by—who would have guessed?—people such as themselves. So, as bad as the National Labor Relations Board was on paper, it was immensely worse (for employers) in practice. And so forth, across the full range of new regulatory powers created by New Deal legislation. In a similar way, the apparatchiki who run the federal regulatory leviathan today can only inspire apprehension on the part of investors and business executives. President Obama’s cadre of crony capitalists, which he drags out to show that “business is being fully considered,” in no way diminishes these worries.

(H/T to Don Boudreaux.)

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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