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We need regulation but too much of it will only hobble growth

We won't know if the lessons of the financial crisis have been learned until we are in another boom, when the prices of some assets rise to surprising levels and the regulators decide whether to end the fun and to clamp on controls -- or not.

At times like this, the temptation is for tighter controls everywhere in order to rein in risk-takers and avoid future crashes.

Last week the Department of Finance extended its hand in this regard when it copper-fastened its ability to oversee swathes of activity at the bailed-out banks under new, so-called "relationship frameworks".

While much of the headlines concentrated on the return of bankers' bonuses some time in the near future, the framework also revealed that a large chunk of banking activity cannot be completed now without the nod of Finance Minister Michael Noonan.

Unsurprisingly, former Anglo -- now Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC) -- can hardly make a cup of coffee without consulting the minister. Its management is restricted in any public commentary without first telling the minister exactly what they are going to say.

Extensive rules are laid down for public statements by IBRC's "directors, officers, employees, contractors and consultants" and the bank's framework agreement stresses the need for all these statements to be "consistent" with IBRC's objectives. No doubt the intention here is to gag one of two senior people at the bank.

Despite claiming the department's influence on the banking system will be at "arms-length" the minister also has the right to give "instructions" to the IBRC on a vast array of issues, including "material" acquisitions and disposals, any liquidations, receiverships or examinerships, and key legal issues. There are no such restrictions for BoI, which is only 15pc owned by the State.

IL&P and AIB must consult Mr Noonan on issues such as deals over €50m for IL&P and €100m for AIB and anything that "is likely to create clear and significant reputational issues for the minister or the State and is outside the ordinary course of business". That is some arm the Finance Minister has.

Many of these constraints are to the delight of the taxpayer, who continues to pay for this rescue through higher taxes. We are entitled to ask what exactly we are getting in return.

And the Government must strive to make sure the bankers stick to their end of the bargain.

But 'arms-length management' is going to be difficult. Political involvement in commercial decisions is lethal. And as a nation we don't exactly have a great track record when it comes to governments wading into commercial decisions on behalf of the public.

Destructive financial booms and busts are part and parcel of any sophisticated and innovative financial system -- but a simple, tightly regulated one will condemn an economy to grow slowly if at all. Just ask the thousands of businesses trying to get money out of the banks.

The fear now is that governments, not just our own but across the world, will aim for too much safety and opt for dumbed-down financial systems that hobble their economies and deprive their people of the benefits of faster growth.

Some innovations since the economic crash have made financial markets safer and more resilient. It's the role of regulators to let good innovation flourish and keep the bad from causing harm.

But before we plunge headlong into a purge of the system, it is worth remembering that banking was not solely to blame for the crisis.

Lax monetary policy and appalling political governance also played a starring role.

Irish Independent