Banks Used “Regulatory Arbitrage” to Rent Seek at Taxpayers’ Expense

(p. 21) Between 2009 and 2011, a group of economists at New York University’s Stern School of Business published an influential series of reports and books that sought to explain what, exactly, happened during the financial crisis. The depth of the inquiry was notable because the school is generally thought of as a Wall Street-friendly training ground for future bankers. One of the most striking findings was that between 1980 and 2000, the large banks in America had significantly moved away from productivity ¬≠enhancement and toward rent-¬≠seeking.
For the reports’ principal authors, Matthew Richardson and Viral Acharya, the evidence of this shift came from careful study of the various ways that banks have legally evaded regulation of their capital requirements. A fundamental tenet of bank regulation is that banks shouldn’t borrow too much, because being overleveraged makes them vulnerable to collapse. But banks can most easily make huge profits if they borrow huge amounts, and they tend to pursue unsafe levels of borrowing. Then, the authors observed, they use their power as essential tools in an economy to negotiate bailouts from the government, forcing taxpayers to guarantee their losses. Richardson and Acharya showed that it was precisely because our banking regulations were so extensive and complex that banks were able to seek rents. They called this “regulatory arbitrage,” a term that means banks have harnessed regulation and turned it into a powerful business tool.

For the full commentary, see:
ADAM DAVIDSON. “Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself.” The New York Times Magazine (Sun., May 31, 2015): 18 & 20-21.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the date of the online version of the commentary is MAY 27, 2015, and has the title “Wall Street Is Using the Power of Dodd-Frank Against Itself.”)

One of the relevant papers by Acharya and Richardson is:
Acharya, Viral V., and Matthew Richardson. “Causes of the Financial Crisis.” Critical Review 21, no. 2-3 (2009): 195-210.

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