Harvard Kennedy School Senior Fellow Antonio Weiss
One of the central pillars of financial reform, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), is under political attack and at risk of coming undone.
In the past, the balkanized U.S. financial regulatory system has consistently failed to address risks that took root in its jurisdictional gaps. The FSOC was created to solve that problem, bringing regulators together to make sure they have the tools to protect the economy from financial crises. It is already making an important difference.
Unfortunately, earlier this month the House Financial Services Committee passed the Financial Choice Act (CHOICE Act), which threatens to reverse that progress. It would, for example, all but eliminate the FSOC’s ability to prevent the regrowth of an unsupervised shadow banking sector that might once again threaten our financial stability and economic resiliency. At the same time, the administration of President Donald Trump has signaled that it may use the council to pursue deregulation, rather than its core mandate of financial stability, and to reverse or limit its ability to designate systemically important non-banks for enhanced supervision. Meanwhile, MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, recently asked the courts to delay ruling on an appeal filed by the Obama administration seeking to reinstate the firm’s designation as a systemically important institution requiring prudential oversight by the Federal Reserve. The Trump administration has agreed to put the appeal on hold.
One could almost pity the executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter as they were grilled on Capitol Hill earlier this week by senators upset about Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election, via the posting of cleverly worded propaganda ads and messages on social-media sites.
After all, how do you detect – let alone stop – a small group of determined foreign nationals manipulating and taking advantage of what’s supposed to be open, free-flowing Internet platforms idealistically designed to allow billions of people across the globe to voice their thoughts on everything from world politics to the type off pigeons in Trafalgar Square?
Of course, the Facebook, Google and Twitter executives at the Senate hearing earlier this week bowed their heads, expressed remorse and vowed to do better in combating the threat of foreign interference in our democratic elections.
But the question is: Can they do better? Is it possible? Remember: Facebook alone acknowledges that it received only about $100,000 in paid ads by those it later learned were tied to various Russian groups, but those ads were still seen by about 10 million people, according to media reports.
After much speculation, President Trump has announced his pick to lead the Federal Reserve System: Jerome “Jay” Powell. How should we think about this appointment in the context of the overall Trump administration thinking on financial regulation?
Trump slammed Wall Street throughout his campaign, asserting big banks had “gotten away with murder.” The Republican National Convention platform even mentioned a new Glass-Steagall (the Great Depression-era restriction on banks’ activities). Still, many questioned whether the Trump administration, including Powell, was committed to implementing policies tough on global megabanks.
The answer is no.
There are actually two Trump administrations. One, which attempts to deal with issues that require legislation, like health care, is having trouble making progress. But the second, which can change the rules of regulation, is moving full-steam ahead. We can already see the ground being cleared for a major round of financial deregulation.
There are three important signs of intent when it comes to finance. First, the top people on economic policy in the White House and at Treasury have all worked on Wall Street — and mostly at one big bank, Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president, is chairman of Trump’s National Economic Council, and he has brought in a team that apparently is running the show in terms of policy. Cohn has made his intentions clear: He wants to rollback regulation.
In American politics, the next election is all that matters. Despite the Republicans’ big win in November 2016, US President Donald Trump’s ability to pass legislation still depends on what congressional Republicans expect to see happen in the November 2018 midterm election. Owing to a major shift in public sentiment in the past few months, many Democrats are now convinced that they will win seats, and potentially reclaim control of the House of Representatives.
One can already see grassroots activism gaining momentum in congressional districts that would not have seemed competitive just five months ago. For example, in California’s 45th district (in the traditionally conservative Orange County), University of California, Irvine, law professor Dave Min is taking on the incumbent Republican, Mimi Walters. This past November, Walters was reelected with 58.6% of the vote, but her district favored Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by two percentage points.
This kind of House seat can easily flip to the Democrats in 2018, if a candidate like Min can persuade voters that Walters is out of touch – and too close to Trump. So Min has highlighted Walters’ support for Trump’s attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as well as her backing for his broader budget-cutting agenda. Moreover, her positions on many social issues seem quite distant from those of her constituency.
This Labor Day we could join those speaking out against Donald Trump’s many hypocrisies, chief among them the preposterous notion that he represents the American worker. We could point out that he is further dividing an already divided country, turning to Wall Street tycoons as his key economic advisors, advocating for the elimination of health insurance coverage for the poor in favor of tax cuts for the rich, rolling back overtime regulations, abandoning requirements that investment agents focus on the interests of the retirees that hire them, and appointing a Education Secretary who attacks public education, teachers, and their unions.
We could go on, but a better approach is to lay the foundation for what will need to be done in the post-Trump era, whenever that arrives, to repair the damage, regain the trust of workers, and unify employers, unions, government leaders, and all who share the responsibility for shaping the future of work. We can do so by laying out a positive vision and strategy built around a simple narrative: a new social contract for work capable of meeting the expectations and obligations that workers, employers, and society in general hold for work and employment.
And things could get worse. If we don’t turn the digital revolution into an opportunity to increase the number of good new jobs it could offer, the gap between the haves and have-nots will grow. If we let this happen, the legacy we will leave for our children and grandchildren is a lower standing of living and the prospect of more violence.
The good news is thanks to innovations happening around the country we can see how a new and more inclusive social contract might be built.