by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
John Berlau of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains for National Review Online readers how the Dodd-Frank legislation — designed to address problems revealed by the financial crisis in 2008 — ended up as an example of the dangers associated with regulatory overreach.
The two recent federal court decisions on Obamacare subsidies — one for, one against — prompted fevered reactions and discussion. By contrast, two recent rulings against the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — which is about the same length as Obamacare (around 2,600 pages) and which was rammed through the same Democrat-controlled Congress — attracted much less notice. Why? It may have something to do with the particular provisions involved.
Dodd-Frank’s Section 1502, for example, does not contain much of the terminology one would expect in a “Wall Street reform” bill. There is no mention of banking, lending, or financial fraud. Instead, one finds references to things such as “minerals necessary to the functionality or production of a product manufactured.” Minerals, manufacturing, “functionality” — in a banking bill? At least in Obamacare, no one has found any hidden provisions on foreign policy, international trade, or energy policy.
In the more than four years since Dodd-Frank became law, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — significant players if not the largest culprits in the mortgage crisis — are bigger than ever. The law did not lay a hand on them. And Dodd-Frank didn’t curb the power of too-big-to-fail banks. In fact, the law’s designation of “systemically important financial institutions” enshrines too-big-to-fail by telling creditors which financial firms the government will spare from a normal bankruptcy. But some parts of Dodd-Frank simply have no relationship to financial stability.
As Mercatus Center scholars Hester Peirce and James Broughel explain in their recent book on Dodd-Frank, the law’s “miscellaneous provisions” in Title XV offer “a clear example of how a statute invoked as the answer to the financial crisis is, in reality, an odd conglomeration of responses to issues, many of which had nothing to do with the financial crisis.” Section 1502, championed by celebrities such as Ashley Judd and Ben Affleck, requires all types of publicly traded firms to disclose their use of five “conflict minerals” — including gold, tin, and tungsten — sourced from war-torn regions of the Congo. Similarly irrelevant to finance is Section 1504, added at the behest of rock-star-turned-activist Bono. With the stated aim of combating the use of “dirty money” by U.S. energy companies, it requires firms developing oil, gas, or minerals to disclose payments they make to foreign governments to further their development activities.
Fighting corruption and violence in the Congo is a laudable goal, but pursuing foreign-policy objectives through a financial bill is the wrong approach.