What was the problem with financial regulation?

Here is my NYT column from today.  Excerpt:

In short, there was plenty of regulation – yet much of it made the
problem worse. These laws and institutions should have reined in bank
risk while encouraging financial transparency, but did not. This
deficiency – not a conscientious laissez-faire policy – is where the
Bush administration went wrong.

…the Bush administration’s many critiques of regulation are
belied by the numbers, which demonstrate a strong interest in continued
and, indeed, expanded regulation. This is the lesson of a recent study,
“Regulatory Agency Spending Reaches New Height,” by Veronique de Rugy,
senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason
University, and Melinda Warren, director of the Weidenbaum Center Forum
at Washington University.
(Disclosure: Ms. de Rugy’s participation in this study was under my
supervision.) For the proposed 2009 fiscal budget, spending by
regulatory agencies is to grow by 6.4 percent, similar to the growth
rate for last year, and continuing a long-term expansionary trend.

For the regulatory category of finance and banking, inflation-adjusted
expenditures have risen 43.5 percent from 1990 to 2008. It is not
unusual for the Federal Register to publish 70,000 or more pages of new
regulations each year.

…The biggest financial deregulation in recent times has been an implicit
one – namely, that hedge funds and many new exotic financial
instruments have grown in importance but have remained largely
unregulated. To be sure, these institutions contributed to the severity
of the Bear Stearns
crisis and to the related global credit crisis. But it’s not obvious
that the less regulated financial sector performed any worse than the
highly regulated housing and bank mortgage lending sectors, including,
of course, the government-sponsored mortgage agencies.

There is much more at the link.  Mark Thoma adds comment.  So does Arnold Kling.


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