Members of Congress whose financial markets credo begins with “I believe in the Dodd-Frank Act,” experience severe cognitive dissonance when faced with the systemic financial risk created by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Of course, this applies principally to Congressional Democrats. Here is the logic of their problem:
If you believe in the Dodd-Frank Act, you must believe in the concept of SIFIs (Systemically Important Financial Institutions).
If you believe in the Dodd-Frank Act, you must believe that SIFIs should be regulated by the Federal Reserve in addition to any other regulator, and that the Fed must be able to set “more stringent” regulations to reduce systemic risk.
If you believe in the concept of SIFIs, you cannot escape the obvious fact that Fannie and Freddie are SIFIs.
So if you believe in the Dodd-Frank Act, you must believe that Fannie and Freddie should be regulated by the Fed to address systemic risk.
But many politicians who wish to believe in the Dodd-Frank Act also wish to escape this inescapable conclusion. “Wait!” they say, “If the Fed regulates Fannie and Freddie, maybe that will hurt housing, so don’t do it!” There is the cognitive dissonance. Stating it in more candid terms, they fear that regulating the systemic risk of Fannie and Freddie in accordance with the Dodd-Frank Act would limit political schemes to run up mortgage risk, and likewise limit the ability to push all that risk onto the Treasury and the taxpayers. Indeed it would, especially recalling that Dodd-Frank authorizes “more stringent” regulations for SIFIs. Presumably, for starters, Fannie and Freddie would no longer be able to run at hyper-leverage.
The Dodd-Frank faithful cannot have it both ways. They cannot both believe in the Dodd-Frank Act and oppose the Fed as systemic risk regulator of Fannie and Freddie. It’s one or the other, not both.
Others do not have this logical problem. For example, my good friend, Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute, opposes recognizing that Fannie and Freddie are SIFIs (thereby disagreeing with me), because he does not want to give the Fed any more power than it already has. Peter can do this with intellectual consistency because he doesn’t believe in the Dodd-Frank Act in the first place.
Another approach to opposing the Fed as systemic risk regulator of Fannie and Freddie would be to deny its supposed ability to regulate any systemic risk at all. This approach would observe the deep uncertainty of the financial future, which is constantly displayed, and argue that neither the Fed nor anybody else can have the knowledge to be a successful systemic risk regulator. But if you think this, you obviously do not believe in the Dodd-Frank Act.
Neither these nor any other arguments against making the Fed a Fannie and Freddie regulator are available to those who recite the Dodd-Frank creed. They must agree with the accuracy of this syllogism:
1. SIFIs must be regulated by the Fed.
2. Fannie and Freddie are obviously SIFIs.
3. Therefore, Fannie and Freddie must be regulated by the Fed.
If you believe in the Dodd-Frank Act, it is simply “Q.E.D.”
Image credit: Singkham