The Food and Drug Administration vets new drugs before they reach the market. But imagine if there were a Wall Street version of the F.D.A. — an agency that examined new financial instruments and ensured that they were safe and benefited society, not just bankers.
How different our economy might look today, given the damage done by complex instruments during the financial crisis.
And yet, four years after the collapse of Bear Stearns, regulation of these products remains a battleground. As federal officials struggle to write rules required by the Dodd-Frank law, some in Congress are trying to circumvent them. Last week, for instance, the House Financial Services Committee approved a bill that would let big financial institutions with foreign subsidiaries conduct trades that evade rules intended to make the vast market in derivatives more transparent.
Which brings us back to the F.D.A. Against the discouraging backdrop in financial oversight, two professors at the University of Chicago have raised an intriguing idea. In a paper published in February, Eric A. Posner, a law professor, and E. Glen Weyl, an assistant professor in economics, argue that regulators should approach financial products the way the F.D.A. approaches new drugs.
The potential dangers of financial instruments, they argue, “seem at least as extreme as the dangers of medicines.”
They contend that new instruments should be approved by a “financial products agency” that would test them for social utility. Ideally, products deemed too costly to society over all — those that serve only to increase speculation, for example — would be rejected, the two professors say.
“It is not the main purpose of our proposal to protect consumers and other unsophisticated investors from shady practices or their own ignorance,” they wrote. “Our goal is rather to deter financial speculation because it is welfare-reducing and contributes to systemic risk.”
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