Foundational financial legislation is typically adopted in the midst or aftermath of financial crises, when an informed understanding of the causes of the crisis is not yet available. Moreover, financial institutions operate in a dynamic environment of considerable uncertainty, such that legislation enacted even under the best of circumstances can have perverse unintended consequences, and regulatory requirements correct for an initial set of conditions can become inappropriate as economic and technological circumstances change. Furthermore, the stickiness of the status quo in the U.S. political system renders it difficult to revise legislation, even though there may be a consensus to do so.This essay contends that the best means of responding to this dismal state of affairs is to include, as a matter of course, in crisis-driven financial legislation and its implementing regulation, two key procedural mechanisms: (1) a requirement of automatic subsequent review and reconsideration of the legislative and regulatory decisions at some future point in time; and (2) regulatory exemptive or waiver powers that encourage, where feasible, small scale experimentation, as well as flexibility in implementation. Both procedural devices will better inform and calibrate the regulatory apparatus, and could thereby mitigate, at least on the margin, the unintended errors which will invariably accompany financial legislation and rulemaking originating in a crisis.
Given the centrality of financial institutions and markets to economic growth and societal well-being, it is exceedingly important for legislators acting in a financial crisis with the best of intentions, to not make matters worse.