January 06, 2012
Sunday Scholarship at AALS: Shifting Away from Agency Independence in Bank Regulation
Posted by Erik Gerding

This is the fourth installment of a series of previews of the papers being presented at the AALS Financial Institutions & Consumer Financial Services Section meeting this Sunday from 9 am to 10:45 am at the Marriott Wardman Park.

Stavros Gadinis (U.C. Berkeley) has authored the fourth paper that will be presented on Sunday. His work, From Independence to Politics in Banking Regulation (forthcoming in the Duke Law Journal) provides a very insightful empirical study of how lawmakers are responding to the financial crisis. Surprisingly, Gadinis finds across a number of countries, lawmakers are moving away from giving responsibility for bank regulations to independent agencies. Instead, lawmakers are increasingly assigning responsibility to officials subordinate to elected politicians or to politicians themselves.

Here is his abstract:

U.S. financial regulation traditionally relied on independent agencies, such as the Federal Reserve and the FDIC. In the last two decades, countries around the world followed the U.S. example by strengthening the independence of their financial regulators, encouraged by recommendations from international organizations such as the Basel Committee and the IMF. Yet, reforms introduced following the 2007-2008 financial crisis abandon the conventional paradigm of agency independence and allocate authority to officials under the direct control of elected politicians, such as the Secretary of the Treasury. This paper studies reforms in 10 key jurisdictions for international banking. It shows that politicians gained new powers with three distinct features. First, politicians have new authority not only to handle emergencies, but also to oversee banks’ financial condition during regular times of smooth business operation. Second, politicians exercise these powers directly, rather than by delegation to a regulatory bureaucracy. Third, while reforms did not dismantle independent regulators, they require them to work under the leadership of politicians in new systemic oversight arrangements. Whenever reformers established new regulatory bodies or mechanisms, they placed politicians at the helm.

Gadinis’s paper promises to launch a fleet of subsequent scholarship. Beyond the normative/ policy question of whether this shift away from independence is a good development, are interesting questions that would drill down into the data. I would find it surprising that elected officials would assume all these new powers without building in mechanisms to hedge the risk of being blamed for the next crisis.

At the same time, Gadinis is writing at a particularly fertile juncture of financial regulation and administrative law. Some of the influential recent administrative law scholarship in this area has argued that traditional hallmarks to measure agency independence and traditional mechanisms to safeguard that independence need to be rethought, at least in the U.S. context. For example, Lisa Schulz Bressman & Robert Thompson have looked at the nuanced ways in which the President can exercise influence over agencies.   Rachel Barkow has laid out other ways in which agencies can be insulated from capture beyond the traditional mechanisms (which, include taking away the President’s power to fire an agency head and exempting agency regulations from Executive Office cost-benefit review). So we need to pay much more attention to texture and nuance in defining agency independence and serving its underlying goals. Of course, the coding in a comparative empirical study cannot take into account all the differences in institutional environments among numerous countries.

Gadinis’s paper is sure to spark a lively scholarly conversation. Shruti Rana (Maryland) will serve as discussant and be first to engage.

AALS, Administrative Law, Comparative Law, Empirical Legal Studies, Financial Crisis, Financial Institutions, Legal Scholarship | Bookmark

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