Wall Street Welfare Package Contains One Good Thing

We noted happily a few hours ago that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s $700 billion Wall Street welfare package no longer includes the infamous ACORN handout that so enraged conservatives. Now it appears the legislation expected to be voted on by the House as soon as Monday contains a victory for common sense: section 132 of the bill would give the Securities and Exchange Commission authority to suspend mark-to-market accounting rules. (See page 88 of PDF here.)

The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s John Berlau believes that “relatively simple changes to mark-to-market rules, like suspending the rules for illiquid but performing loans if a firm meets other solvency requirements, would lead to more accurate information and could quell demands for more ‘emergency’ bailouts.” Berlau is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at CEI.

Mark-to-market accounting rules have helped to exacerbate the financial crisis by, in effect, creating the illusion that things are much worse than they really are. Whether the SEC, led by chairman Chris Cox, will actually suspend the rule and how such a suspension would actually work is anyone’s guess.

(See previous posts on the bailout here, here, herehere, and here.)

POST SCRIPT Sept. 29: John Berlau says the inclusion of the provision that would allow the SEC to suspend mark-to-market is meaningless because regulators already have the power to do that. He writes:

As of today, some accounts say the bills will include authority for the SEC to suspend mark-to-market. But the SEC and the banking agencies already have the authority to suspend it and use any accounting rules they wish. Since they have been resistant to doing so thus far, even in the midst of this crisis, putting in what amounts to at best Congressional “wishes” will likely not move these agencies. The only way Congress could make a meaningful change would be to require this suspension of rules, and lawmakers do not seem willing to do that yet.

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