There is a serial killer quality about Isaac Chotiner and his interviews. He finds someone who likes to talk and who is in the wrong and he proceeds to eviscerate them through a series of questions in the New Yorker. He’s done it so often that people like Dan Drezner wrote this: Why Do People Talk to Isaac Chotiner?
Barney Frank was the one person who I saw stand up to him in an old interview and avoid being sliced up. I was impressed then. I was less impressed recently when Chotiner interviewed him about working for Signature Bank. Frank comes across as pugnacious still, but clearly he is wounded and on the defensive. Here’s some excerpts.
On Frank’s own actions to weaken Dodd-Frank:
Do you see any connection between the weakening of Dodd-Frank a few years ago and the collapse? I came to the conclusion shortly after we passed the bill that fifty billion dollars was too low. I decided that by 2012, and, in fact, said it publicly. The reason I say that is that I didn’t go on the board of Signature until later. In fact, I had never heard of Signature Bank at the time when I began to advocate raising the limit. This is relevant, obviously, because Signature was a beneficiary of that.
On why it was on the regulators to choose to go after banks like Signature Bank, here is what Frank had to say:
The power to look at liquidity, to increase liquidity and to say, You have too little—they had every power they needed to do that. [The bill allowed regulators to keep liquidity and capital requirements on banks with total assets between a hundred billion and two hundred and fifty billion, but no longer mandated they do so.] I will tell you, as a member of the board of Signature, we underwent some discussions about liquidity, and the need to increase liquidity or maintain it.
On the limits of stress tests (The bold part is Chotiner: the part in italics is Frank):
But isn’t the point of stress tests to see how a bank will do under different scenarios, like the one we saw? Yeah, that is what a stress test does. It’s an artificial but valid test. I do not think that a stress test would have helped in this situation. Because? Well, this all came up very suddenly. I don’t know what a stress test would have shown. A stress test might have been helpful, but part of it was that stress tests were for institutions large enough that it wouldn’t just be about them failing—it would be that their failing could cause great waves. I think that the impact of this failure has been contained, which it wouldn’t have been if it were JPMorgan.
On why he went to work for Signature Bank:
No, that’s the answer to, “Why are you doing this? It’s inconsistent.” No, I went on it, frankly, for two reasons. One: it paid well. I don’t have a pension and, having quit, I wanted to make some money. [Frank declined to participate in the congressional pension system.]
In short: weakening Dodd-Frank was a good thing and removing mandatory liquidity requirements from banks like Signature Bank was a good thing and also the stress tests are not that good. Also its fine for political leaders to go work the people they used to regulate and make lots of money.
The whole interview is worth reading. Unless you were a fan of Barney Frank, they way I once was. Now he just sounds like an character from The Big Short.