John Crawford on Post-Recession Financial Reform

Published on: Author: Abe Cable

We’re closing in on a decade since the height of the financial crisis, so perhaps it’s not surprising that reflection on financial regulation is in the air. Much of the focus has been on two divergent ideas. On the one hand, President Trump evidenced a deregulatory approach when he famously announced he would “do a big number” on existing regulation. On the other hand, prominent Democrats (and even one of Trump’s own high-level economic advisors) have suggested a throwback approach of reestablishing more stringent separation of traditional banking and investment banking. Looking for an informed and measured analysis of these ideas? I recommend two timely and pithy pieces by Professor John Crawford.

In “Lessons Unlearned?: Regulatory Reform and Financial Stability in the Trump Administration,” Professor Crawford examines the deregulatory (or capital-markets) approach by critiquing the proposed Financial CHOICE Act, which tries to roll back much of Dodd-Frank. Professor Crawford primarily criticizes the proposed law for its failure to recognize the root cause of the financial crisis—externalities associated with the shadow banking system. The shadow banking system refers to the variety of financial institutions that issue a particular type of short-term debt. As Professor Crawford lays out persuasively in prior work, the shadow banking system, like the depository banking system, is prone to runs that have systematic effects. Because of these systematic effects, Professor Crawford argues, market discipline alone cannot provide adequate stability to the financial system. Some degree of prudential regulation is needed to prevent and manage shadow bank runs.

In “A Better Way to Revive Glass-Steagall,” Professor Crawford turns his attention to the throwback approach of reestablishing starker separation of depository banking and investment banking within the same firm. Professor Crawford’s most penetrating critique is that many of the firms at the center of the financial crisis would be totally unaffected by the proposal. Lehman didn’t become a traditional commercial bank by taking deposits (at least as the term “deposits” is defined by existing law). Instead, it functioned like a bank, without ever becoming a traditional bank, by issuing short-term debt. Again, the core of the problem is that the throwback approach fails to reflect the primary causes of the crisis.

In addition to these two pieces, Professor Crawford’s body of work is a great way to immerse oneself in the financial crisis and subsequent regulatory developments. And as awful as “immersing oneself in the financial crisis” may sound, Professor Crawford has a knack for making it easy through clear explanation, catchy metaphors, and enlivening anecdotes.