January 9, 2012
The financial markets need regulation the way a nuclear-power plant needs a cooling agent for its radioactive fuel rods. If safety rules are enforced and the heat of the rods is properly controlled, the result can be clean, abundant energy. But if that cooling process is neglected, there could be a meltdown.
Similarly, capital requirements are the cooling agent of risk-taking in the economy. And just as nuclear fuel will always be reactive, people will always be greedy. We need to enforce rules to balance natural greed with capital requirements so that greed can create productive risk-taking and competition -- not short-term extraction. Here are five possible ways to do that.
Make Swaps Public: In Las Vegas, you need to have actual money to gamble -- your own money -- and if you lose, you pay. But since 2000, banks, industries and consumers have been free to take on system-threatening levels of debt (to the point of financial meltdown) without facing any requirement to risk a significant amount of their own money. And while consumer risk- taking was curbed by the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. banks continue to use America’s deposits insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to fund their mad, bonus-seeking speculation.