Online virtual currencies are nothing new. They have existed for decades—from World of Warcraft Gold to Facebook Credits to e-gold. Neither are online payments systems new. PayPal, Visa, and Western Union Pay are all examples. So what is it about Bitcoin that makes it unique? Bitcoin is the world’s first completely decentralized digital currency. Its decentralized nature results in lower transactions costs, making it particularly attractive to small businesses. It could also be an attractive electronic payments option for consumers, including the unbanked and underbanked. Risks include volatility and security, but these are not problems inherent in Bitcoin’s design.
Raising the rate of labor force participation needs to be a central focus of federal policymakers, in order to strengthen our economy and raise the prospects of low-income Americans. To do this, we need to make it easier, not harder, for companies to increase hiring. We also need to encourage individuals to re-enter the labor force, not discourage them. Government assistance for the jobless is important, but the re-employment of the jobless is what we need to reduce poverty and lower income inequality.
So long as monetary policy is conducted in a discretionary manner, it is important to maintain the independent input of the Reserve Bank presidents on the FOMC. The Reserve Banks should therefore not become mere outposts of the Federal Reserve Board in order to eliminate commercial bankers’ representation on their boards of directors. A better way to remove the potential for conflicts of interest is to require the Federal Reserve System to leave the formation of fiscal and credit-allocation policies to Congress and their execution to the US Treasury.
In examining the reforms under consideration, first, I will discuss why regulatory accumulation is a public policy problem: regulatory accumulation creates substantial drag on economic growth by impeding innovation and entrepreneurship.
When the Dodd-Frank Act was being developed, one issue under consideration was whether the Board should lose some of its regulatory powers in view of its poor regulatory performance prior to the crisis. Instead, Dodd-Frank substantially increased the Board’s regulatory powers. One of the most important new powers is the authority to regulate nonbank financial institutions designated systemically important by the Financial Stability Oversight Council. So far, General Electric Capital Corporation, American International Group, and Prudential have been so designated, with additional entities likely to follow. These financial institutions will present the bank-focused Board with new regulatory challenges. It is important that the Board respond with well-vetted, tailored regulations that recognize that these entities are not banks and cannot be effectively regulated as if they were.
Despite Washington’s recent focus on the disastrous Affordable Care Act website rollout, policymakers are missing what the rollout glitches symbolize: the fundamental flaws that imbue government intervention. The work of public choice economists such as Nobel laureate James Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, Mancur Olson, and William Niskanen has shown that, despite good intentions and lavish use of taxpayer resources, government solutions are not only unlikely to solve most of our problems—they often make problems worse.
Chairman Schweikert, Ranking Member Clarke, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to be part of today’s hearing on regulatory burdens on small financial institutions. In financial services, as in every other sector, the United States is not a one-size-fits-all nation. Financial institutions of all different sizes coexist, and customers choose among them based upon their needs. A regulatory environment that is increasingly unwelcoming to small financial institutions may curtail customer choice.
We are ultimately advocating not for Bitcoin, but for innovation. It is important that policymakers allow this experimentation to continue. Policymakers should work to clarify how Bitcoin is regulated and to normalize its regulation so that we have the opportunity to learn just how innovative Bitcoin can be.
The enormous amount of regulation generated each year and the huge potential for improving it could provide enormous net benefits to society. A strong watchdog agency is needed to provide the transparency and checks and balances needed to set priorities for high-impact regulations.
In addition to rebuilding OIRA’s technical staff and enhancing its voice in policy debates with the agencies, several other more subtle steps should be considered by the administrator.
The regulatory process consists of many stages, but the essential first step is answering the question "what's the problem?" A thorough regulatory impact analysis should provide evidence that the regulation addresses a significant, systemic problem and trace that problem back to its root cause. A cursory or faulty analysis of the problem prevents regulators from devising an effective solution and considering realistic alternatives.