Greenspan: Dummy-proof Wall St. Reform

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Alan Greenspan, the dour former chairman of the Federal Reserve, joined the growing ranks of financial experts saying we can’t rely on “fallible” human regulators to rein in Wall Street under the re-drawn lines of new financial regulation. (That is, if we get new financial regulations.) Greenspan’s remarks came as part of his testimony today before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a Congressionally-mandated panel investigating the root causes of the financial crisis.

A former regulator himself, Greenspan told the FCIC, led by former California state treasurer Phil Angelides, that new financial safeguards should require higher capital cushions to absorb losses and force banks to have more skin in the game on their trades. “Concretely, I argue that the primary imperatives going forward have to be on increased risk-based capital and liquidity requirements and significant increases in collateral requirements irrespective of the financial institutions making the trades,” Greenspan said. “Sufficient capital eliminates the need to know in advance which financial products or innovations will succeed in assisting in effectively directing a nation’s savings to productive physical investments and which will fail. He added, “In a sense, [capital requirements] solve every problem.” Asked about what kind of capital requirements are needed, Greenspan didn’t offer any specific figures but said only they needed to be “adequate.”

Greenspan’s views on financial regulation come, in part, as the former Fed chairman defends his record, despite widespread criticisms that he missed the housing bubble’s genesis and failed to crack down on subprime lending. In his written testimony, Greenspan countered by saying he warned of the “housing boom” as early as 2002, and that the Fed took significant steps to crack down on a subprime market that, in the 2000s, spiraled out of control. However, Greenspan stressed, as he has before, that he himself, as well as any regulator, can never fully predict the next crisis, and that cold, hard capital restrictions are the key to preventing the next meltdown. 

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