Major crises, financial or otherwise, are one of the few effective catalysts for reconsideration of public policy. But even in moments of crisis, the political process steers debate toward quick fixes that merely address symptoms, and not root causes.
So it's not surprising that one reaction to the Obama administration’s proposal to limit the growth and risk-taking of the largest banks has been that it falls into the pattern of attacking the wrong problem.
But it may be just as accurate to think of the proposal as an exception to that pattern. It's certainly no quick fix for the economy: The Volcker Rule would impose short-term pain to achieve what its architect views as a long-term systemic benefit. The pain is that it would almost certainly hit the availability of credit for some period of time. It's hard to see how companies that are affected would be dialing up their risk profiles while facing regulatory size and business line restrictions, even if the rules had a phase-in period.
It's still difficult to say whether the administration's decision to embrace Paul Volcker's ideas is best viewed as a change in posture or one more grab at a "shovel-ready" idea but that could change after tonight's State of the Union.