Imagine you are a financial regulator whose agency is underfunded, understaffed and under-trained and that firms under your jurisdiction are likely to pick off your best employees by offering them triple the salary you pay them.
Furthermore, imagine that Congress has written an 800-page law that instructs you to write and enforce new regulations on banks and securities firms to ensure financial stability for the system. The most complex part of this new law, the Volcker Rule, would require you to cooperate with three other agencies to jointly issue a 530-page Proposed Rule that asks 1,300 questions.
Now imagine that in the course of honing this rule, 17,000 comment letters will flow into your agency, the majority of which promote the status quo.
After going through this thought experiment, you’d probably say: “What a headache! Why can’t we just bring back Glass-Steagall and split up banks into risky trading machines and safe depository institutions? This monstrosity of a regulatory fiat will never be properly defined or adequately enforced.”
The Volcker Rule is supposed to isolate the risk of a bank trading its own assets and separate that from depositors’ assets. In other words, the Volcker Rule should isolate the risk of a big derivatives or fixed-income loss on the house account from the cash savings of retired teachers and other customers of the bank. By design, it is aimed at the heart of the nation’s largest banks, the five institutions that use their enormous staffs and FDIC-insured balance sheets to dominate trading and commercial banking.