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February 27, 2009

Can We Regulate Out of This Mess?

Catherine New
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In a recent Forbes.com op-ed, professors Bruce Kogut, Patrick Bolton and Tano Santos argue that in order to be effective, a good regulatory system must distinguish between prevention and resolution. The current system, they say, has failed to do so, instead relying on “stop gap” prevention measures.

Kogut, Bolton and Santos say that the current system failed to follow the principles of crisis prevention by allowing incentives to become misaligned, creating risk-blind structural silos and failing to require the disclosure of risk exposure, particularly in the case of credit default swaps. The solution, they propose, is the creation of a new entity — the Crisis Resolution Board. They write:

A new regulatory system must also be capable of crisis resolution, because the hallmark of modern financial crises is that the limits of institutions and markets quickly bleed into one another, and the problem rapidly takes on a global scale. The data show that as the most recent crisis hit, all the crickets began to sing in harmony — all markets behaved erratically simultaneously. A “regulator of regulators” — which we will call the Crisis Resolution Board — should be charged with monitoring and responding to systemic risks.

The Crisis Resolution Board cannot be merely an honorary posting. Effective intervention by the Crisis Resolution Board will require social capital — crises always rely upon the personal knowledge among the players. Thus, this oversight board should include the chiefs of the Treasury, Fed and an FSA regulatory agency, as well as industry and investor representatives. In addition, the board must have more than global access to data — it must have knowledge of the global exposure and the systemic risk provided by a research staff that continually tests its instruments against the dynamic evolution of markets.

Concretely, what would the Board do? First, it will have power to monitor the exposure of all financial institutions and markets, and to issue early warning signals. This is hardly a radical idea. The IMF plays a similar role at the global level in monitoring national reserves. The role is clearly feasible for a national regulator and will lead to a strengthening of global financial market coordination.

Second, like any good fire brigade, which has a deep respect for plumbing, when things get hot the board will ensure that the financial markets’ plumbing is functioning. Markets depend on brokerage, exchanges and settlement. That’s their plumbing, and it’s also the key to systemic risk. It must be charted and tracked globally if we are to know what to do when the next crisis comes.

Regulatory reform should seek to distinguish between crisis prevention and crisis resolution. Prevention relies upon a tripartite structure and clear rules of accountability. Crisis resolution demands an integrated approach to systemic risk. Both structures are required and yet, no country has yet to design such a system. This is the time to do so.

Photo credit: SKPY/Scott