Saturday, July 09, 2011

What's next for Sheila Bair?

Joe Nocera has a wonderful debriefing of just-retired FDIC head Sheila Bair, who fought the good fight on behalf of depositors, mortgagees and taxpayers in the runup to the financial meltdown and throughout it -- fighting unsuccessfully to rein in subprime lending and for effective mortgage modification, and successfully for strong resolution authority in Dodd-Frank to wind down failing megabanks.  Throughout, she was an advocate for market accountability -- that is, for bank bondholders and mortgage holders to absorb a portion of the losses caused by mortgages gone bad and banks gone bust. Nocera also credits her with staving off U.S. adoption of Basel II, the loophole-ridden standard for bank capital requirements that enabled European banks to put themselves in even worse shape than American ones.

Perhaps the article is spun this way, but as Bair delivers her own postmortem it's hard not to speculate about her future:

“We always saw ourselves as the champion of the little guy,” she continued. “The other regulators never saw the pain of a bank closure, because that was our role. We were the ones that saw people losing their jobs when we had to shut down a little bank. They never understood the unfairness of the way little banks were treated versus big banks. Some of the other regulators have an institutional mind-set that the big banks have to always be with us.”
Speaking in ignorance here, it's hard not to think of Bair as a candidate to run the Bureau of Financial Consumer Protection if the President can't or won't get Elizabeth Warren in there by hook or crook. She has overseen the shutdown and takeover of hundreds of banks; she has proved her devotion to the "little guy," and she has fought the good fight  against the worst bank consumer abuse of our times, predatory mortgages.  She's a moderate Republican who presumably could get confirmed.

Then too, rumor has it that there'll be an opening for Treasury Secretary soon enough.

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