The war on standards, Dodd-Frank edition

The Obama administration is pressing ahead with its plan to impose racial quotas on the financial industry via the Dood-Frank law. Dodd-Frank requires agencies with financial sector regulatory responsibilities to “establish an Office of Minority and Women Inclusion” that will develop diversity and inclusion standards for workplaces and contracting.

Accordingly, these agencies have published in the Federal Register a proposed “Policy Statement Establishing Joint Standards for Assessing the Diversity Policies and Practices of Entities Regulated by the Agencies.” As Roger Clegg reports, that Statement, which applies not only to the agencies themselves but also to all those regulated by it, insists on the use of “metrics” and “percentage[s]“ to ensure compliance with the diversity requirement.

In other words it imposes quotas — quotas that will apply to hiring, promotion, and contracting.

There’s plenty of irony here; for it was the imposition of race-conscious lending practices on the banking industry that led to the financial crisis, that led to Dodd-Frank. Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosen lay out this history in their book Reckless Endangerment. George Will, in a column about the book, summarized:

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act pressured banks to relax lending standards to dispense mortgages more broadly across communities. In 1992, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston purported to identify racial discrimination in the application of traditional lending standards to those, Morgenson and Rosner write, “whose incomes, assets, or abilities to pay fell far below the traditional homeowner spectrum.”

In 1994, Bill Clinton proposed increasing homeownership through a “partnership” between government and the private sector, principally orchestrated by Fannie Mae, a “government-sponsored enterprise” (GSE). It became a perfect specimen of what such “partnerships” (e.g., General Motors) usually involve: Profits are private, losses are socialized.

There was a torrent of compassion-speak: “Special care should be taken to ensure that standards are appropriate to the economic culture of urban, lower-income, and nontraditional consumers.” “Lack of credit history should not be seen as a negative factor.” Government having decided to dictate behavior that markets discouraged, the traditional relationship between borrowers and lenders was revised.

Lenders promoted reckless borrowing, knowing they could off­load risk to purchasers of bundled loans, and especially to Fannie Mae. In 1994, subprime lending was $40 billion. In 1995, almost one in five mortgages was subprime. Four years later such lending totaled $160 billion.

Once again, we see the familiar pattern I discussed yesterday: left-wing policies beget a crisis, the response to which produces more left-wing policies. Here, although the main left-wing mischief of Dodd-Frank lies elsewhere, a crisis that originated with the granting of racial preferences ends up producing more racial preferences.

And legislation that purports to put the financial industry on a sounder basis undercuts that objective by forcing institutions to subordinate merit selection to the distribution of racial spoils.