WASHINGTON — In her last speech before leaving the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Chairman Sheila Bair on Friday said the "short-termism" that helped cause the financial crisis is also threatening post-crisis reforms.
Bair called for a broader view in economic policies, saying long-term strategies are needed in everything from new capital requirements for banks to entitlement and tax reform.
"In a world obsessed with instant gratification and lightening-round debates, we are in dire need of leadership, both public and private, that will champion patience and sacrifice now in return for a brighter and more stable future for us and our progeny," Bair said in remarks to the National Press Club.
As she prepares for a July 8 departure, Bair sounded uninterested in a future political career, but provided a glimpse into the book she plans to write after her exit.
"It will not be a tell-all," she said. "Everybody worked very hard in this crisis with the best of motives. There were certainly different perspectives and philosophies. It's important for those to be explained to the readership."
But her remarks focused on not repeating past mistakes. She said before and during the crisis, financial institutions, policymakers and homeowners were guilty of short-term thinking.
"Direct assistance to the largest financial institutions eased the short-term crisis of confidence in the interbank market, and our financial system began to function again," she said. "But policymakers failed to effectively attack the root cause of the problem, which was the enormous backlog of unaffordable and underwater mortgage loans that continues to slow the recovery of our housing markets and our economy."
She said much of the chatter in the implementation of the Dodd-Frank Act is also focused on the here and now.
For example, members of both parties have criticized a regulatory proposal for tough standards defining the "Qualified Residential Mortgage", a new class of safe loan exempted from credit risk retention. The proposal reserves QRM status for borrowers with at least a 20% down payment, but bankers and housing advocates say that will limit low-cost loans to the wealthy.
That overlooks the long-term advantage of risk retention, Bair said.
"Everyone, it seems, believes that their mortgage should receive this Qualifying Residential Mortgage, or QRM, status and thus be exempt from the small premium in their mortgage rate that will result from risk retention," she said. "The connection they're not making is that this small extra cost is the price we must pay in the short term to put a little equity behind these mortgages, to ensure that incentives are properly aligned, and to avoid a costly repeat of the mortgage crisis in the future."
Bair said "short-termism is also alive and well in the ongoing debate over bank capital requirements," and she again refuted the view that the FDIC's authority under Dodd-Frank to seize giant firms amounts to bailouts.
"Some of the rhetoric in the financial reform debate has been either short-sighted or simply inaccurate," she said, adding that bailouts are "expressly prohibited by the new law."
"But what is the sound-bite I keep hearing about this provision? 'Bailouts as far as the eye can see.' We need to spread the word as to what the … resolution framework is really all about, and what is at stake if we don't see that the new authority is fully implemented before the next crisis."
Of her own long-term plans, Bair signaled they will not include another run for office. (She ran unsuccessfully in 1990 for a Kansas congressional seat.)
"I don't think I really want to run for anything again," she said. "I love campaigning. I love interacting with voters. I hated the fundraising."