Editor’s note: This article first appeared at Forbes.com.
If there is one truth that became apparent during the financial panic five years ago, it is that Big Government and Big Finance are inseparable. Of course Uncle Sam was going to bail out Wall Street, for without the financial infrastructure that Wall Street provides to maintain orderly markets in various securities, particularly debt instruments, the multi-trillion dollar operation of our federal government would cease to function.
I wrote about “The de facto Nationalization of JPMorgan Chase” in April, 2008, suggesting that when the Federal Reserve helped to plan and finance JP Morgan Chase’s absorption of many of Bear Stearns’ assets and operations, it represented “a major turning point in U.S. financial history.” Subsequent events have corroborated that assessment.
If anyone doubted that Uncle Sam was moving to take charge of the U.S. financial system, those doubts should have been dispelled by the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. Dodd-Frank conferred unprecedented leverage over financial institutions through its enforcement arm, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Through its power to designate the institutions of its choice as “too big to fail” or “systemically important,” and, as I fear we shall see, to effectively dictate policy to firms so designated, the federal government is moving to convert gigantic private corporations into administrative arms of government.
Two recent stories illustrate this point that the trend is moving toward government dominance of Big Finance. The insurance giant, Prudential Financial, attempted to resist the feds designating it a SIFI (the acronym du jour: Systemically Important Financial Institution.) Not a chance. Washington regulators crushed Prudential’s resistance and trampled the principle of federalism by usurping the state insurance regulators that heretofore have overseen Prudential’s operations. According to Richard Liskov’s account in The Wall Street Journal, the feds apparently are devising rules on the fly, having assumed regulatory control over Prudential before the actual regulations have been drafted.
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