This is not to strike a defeatist tone and say that no regulatory changes could have improved the financial sector. Limits on leverage, for instance, might have put limits in fact on bank size, reducing the damage they could inflict on the economy if they failed. Changes to the bankruptcy code could have made bank failures more orderly when they occurred. Breaking up the rating agencies’ oligopoly would have encouraged smarter risk assessment on Wall Street. Most important, a new approach to housing policy — starting with a plan for dealing with Fannie and Freddie — would have removed an enormous distortion in the economy that contributed to the crisis.
But the bill that Congress has produced, which President Obama is eager to sign, did not include any of these measures. Instead, it doubled down on an approach to regulation that has failed in the past and added a number of extraneous provisions besides — such as new price controls on debit-card fees — because the Democrats “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” We’re very glad that negotiators named this bill the Dodd-Frank Act. When the next crisis hits, it will be much easier to hold these men accountable.