A regular reader sent me a link to a video of a recent interview of Sheila Bair by Bill Moyers. Bair plus Moyers equals big bank bashing, and you know going in what you're going to hear. For those who expect me to do my usual double-tap to Bair's forehead, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I didn't think she was that far off base.
Moyers tried to serve her some softballs that she could stroke into the far left-hand corner of the outfield, but to me, Sheila seemed, for the most part, to resist the temptation to play to Moyer's typical crowd (take a look at the comments box for a sampling). She let it be known that while she's no fan of the management of the largest banks, and she believes that the federal bank regulators have suffered "cognitive capture" by those banks, she also thinks that trying to modify Dodd-Frank to add more specific provisions regarding breaking up the big banks is a fool's errand. Not only is it impossible to effect in the current political environment, but the regulators already have the tools to accomplish what they need to accomplish regarding mitigating the risk of the "Too-Big-To-Fail" institutions. That's the theory, at any rate, and I don't find it to be an unreasonable one.
Of course, the regulators had all the tools they needed to prevent the latest financial disaster and didn't use them effectively. Yet, we can always have hope, can't we?
I do find her purported amazement at the fact that banks use their own internal models to assign risk weights to certain held-for-trading assets to be, itself, amazing. As Dealbreaker's Matt King observed not too long ago, the banks base their models on public information and that information is, to put it mildly, "opaque." I doubt that the regulators would have much more success in assigning across-the-board risk weights to such assets in the same manner that they can assign risk weights to single-family mortgage loans. Moreover, the regulators have not been clamoring to usurp the banks' internal models with spiffy new and improved models of their own, have they? Maybe they have and I've simply missed the clamor.
I also found amusing her contention that Congress could have been more "prescriptive" in Dodd-Frank, contrary to the wishes of the regulators, who wanted to retain more discretion to set the rules. Leaving aside her own position on this issue in the formulation of Dodd-Frank, that act was drafted so hastily and rammed down the throats of the opposition so quickly that the very idea that the folks who wrote it could have nailed down "prescriptions" in any coherent fashion is implausible. On the other hand, as we've found in many of the lawsuits that the FDIC has filed against former officers and directors of failed community banks, hindsight is amazingly clear-eyed and Sheila has the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.
All-in-all, however, Sheila is sounding almost reasonable these days. Or, perhaps, I'm merely mellowing.