Why Public Policy Is Inconsistent

by Chidem Kurdas

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JP Morgan Chase, says regulatory policy is working against economic recovery and as such is contradictory. His complaint is about the new bank rules, but in fact government actions in myriad areas are at odds with each other.

Consistency does not appear to be an object in policymaking. For many years subsidies for tobacco growers co-existed with anti-smoking measures. A couple of months ago NYU law professor Richard  Epstein wrote about regulatory and legal over-reach in the anti-smoking fightContinue reading

Why Dodd-Frank is Dud-Blarney

by Chidem Kurdas

It is a shame that Christopher Dodd  did not become a lobbyist earlier, before he teamed up with Barney Frank to sponsor the Dodd-Frank Act. Mr. Dodd first helped set into motion a fast-expanding web of obscure bureaucratic dicta for almost all financial activity, then took a lucrative job as Hollywood lobbyist.

As Richard Epstein writes in National Affairs, the new financial law is notably vague and broad, granting vast discretion to government bureaucracies, giving them the wherewithal to waive or soften requirements for some parties while riding hard on others.  Continue reading

Public Unions vs. the Real Underdog

by Chidem Kurdas

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker successfully made the financial case to limit collective bargaining by public unions. Not only have the unions imposed an immense burden on taxpayers, present and future, but they create bureaucratic rigidities that cause dysfunction and, in financial crunches, layoffs of promising employees.

Yet in recent weeks it has become noticeable that these points fail to persuade many Americans.  The Wisconsin bill that just passed and similar reforms in other states face furious opposition, including appeals to the public.  Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to highlight another aspect of government unions, in addition to the purely economic issues.

We need to understand why part of the public supports unions. The best explanation that I’ve seen is from Richard Epstein in Free Markets Under Siege, a 2005 book that analyzes unions and agricultural price supports as examples of cartels in different markets.  These cartels impose social costs and require special dispensation from antitrust law. Why did the rest of the population accept the costs?  “Never underestimate the enhanced political sympathy when the underdog seeks to gain state power,” Professor Epstein points out. Continue reading

Insider Trading Regulatory Bubble

by Chidem Kurdas

After going easy for years on the fraudster Bernard Madoff, the Securities and Exchange Commission is now engaged in an all-out war against insider trading.  After financial crisis comes regulatory frenzy—so it has been for some 300 years. Both the SEC and the Dodd-Frank Act are right on cue in this long-running political show. Continue reading

The Informant’s Incentive

by Chidem Kurdas

This October, prosecutors announced a case of hedge fund insider trading with multiple arrests and perp walks amid great media fanfare. Revelations from court documents have become curiouser and curiouser.

The government’s key witness, Roomy Khan, comes across as a determined practitioner of insider trading going back more than a decade.  She pleaded guilty to the crime in 2001.  At that time or earlier, she became an informant for the FBI.

Subsequently she went on a brazen run, obtaining and trading on private information about company after company, acting as if she were protected from legal consequences. Her bizarre career highlights the ambiguity surrounding this issue. Legal scholar Richard Epstein has pointed out that enforcing insider trading law involves heavy costs and intrusion—see his  Simple Rules for a Complex World. He  argues that insider trading should be generally regarded as legal.

Consider the implications of the broad case based on Ms. Khan as informant and witness. Continue reading

Get Real about Jobs

by Chidem Kurdas

Today President Obama is holding a jobs summit, with the professed goal of soliciting ideas to encourage businesses to hire. Short-term tax credits for employers are among the measures mentioned.

Yesterday here on ThinkMarkets Mario Rizzo pointed to the distorting impact of such proposals and cited Gary Becker’s argument that cutting income taxes is a better way to stimulate employment.  There is another type of distortion – related to the highly informative back and forth by Jerry O’Driscoll and Roger Koppl on Mario’s post – that should be spelled out. Even as the economy recovers, government-created uncertainty is going to discourage hiring. Continue reading

Too Big to Fail Red Herring

by Chidem Kurdas

The Obama administration has perfected the fine art of taking a real issue and using it to justify a policy that will almost certainly make the problem worse. Claim to control medical costs, add another trillion dollar medical entitlement to truly break the bank—that sort of thing. Looks like we have another example coming.

The Treasury and House Financial Services chief Barney Frank are apparently cooking up legislation that will allow the government to wreck havoc with the creditors of large financial companies. This is in the name of imposing “market discipline” on institutions that may have to be rescued because they could endanger the system.

“The measure would make it easier for the government to seize control of troubled financial institutions, throw out management, wipe out the shareholders and change the terms of existing loans held by the institution,” according to the New York Times report.

Scroll back to September 2008. Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy, the credit market seizes up and stocks tank. What difference would the proposed law make in that situation? Lehman management is out and shareholders are wiped out anyway. Instead of regular bankruptcy, where the creditors exert influence, government directly takes over.

So the difference is that lenders will no longer be able to enforce their contractual claims. Oh yes, that will  be just the right remedy for a fragile credit market. You’ll tell lenders they’re toast! That will really get credit flowing. Continue reading

Welcome Richard Epstein

by Mario Rizzo


Those of us at ThinkMarkets are very happy that Richard Epstein will be teaching at the NYU School of Law on a long-term basis beginning in 2010. He has been visiting NYU for a few years now during the Fall semester. Just yesterday he spoke at our colloquium: The Colloquium on Market Institutions and Economic Processes. He will be a great asset to the University.