Dodd Frank's long-distance paper chase
Comment of the Day

October 28 2011

Commentary by David Fuller

Dodd Frank's long-distance paper chase

My thanks to a reader for this informative article (may require subscription registration, PDF also provided) by Gillian Tett for the Financial Times. Here is the opening:
A couple of days ago, a senior banker in New York showed me a memo that he had just received from his lawyers about the so-called Volcker rule for proprietary trading. This stretched to 82 pages on an iPad, replete with dense charts.

And that was merely his summary document; the "full" explanation ran to several hundred more pages. "It's mad!" he sighed, explaining that this was only one of several memos he had recently received on Dodd-Frank and Basel rules.

It is hard to disagree with that verdict. Almost two years ago, I wrote a column lamenting that the draft Dodd-Frank bill was some 1,300 pages long. After all, I observed then, almost nobody I knew had actually read those 1,300 pages in full; most people were simply too busy to wade through that paper, even as they prepared - or debated - that bill.

But now I realise that those 1,300 pages were the least of the problems. When the bill was finally passed 15 months ago, it had swelled to 2,600 pages, and since then, lawmakers have decided that they will need to make some 243 new rules to turn that bill into law, and conduct 65 studies. That has necessitated the formation of 100-odd committees, each of which is now spewing out consultation documents, which typically run to several hundred pages.

Those consultation documents, in turn, generate endless private sector legal memos. And the agencies are receiving more "feedback", too. Officials from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, for example, say that they have now received no fewer than 25,000 - yes, thousand - comments on the proposed rule reforms; some 15,000 relate to their reforms for commodity trading limits. And the CFTC is only one of the agencies involved in this feedback process. By law, regulatory officials then have to read each and every comment before anything can be done; and those submissions can sometimes stretch - you guessed it - to several hundred pages each. That 1,300 page number, in other words, now multiplies a thousand-fold, if not ten-thousand-fold, across the system as a whole; it makes a collateralised debt obligation look almost simple.

David Fuller's view We need sound regulations to prevent systemic abuse. However, regulators can all too easily become a law unto themselves, creating jobs for the boys, swamping businesses with red tape and endless compliance overheads, while seldom if ever preventing the criminals and fraudsters from creating mayhem.

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