Financial Crisis Losses and Potential Impacts of the Dodd- Frank Act

January 16, 2013

What GAO Found

The 2007-2009 financial crisis has been associated with large economic losses and increased fiscal challenges. Studies estimating the losses of financial crises based on lost output (value of goods and services not produced) suggest losses associated with the recent crisis could range from a few trillion dollars to over $10 trillion. Also associated with the crisis were large declines in employment, household wealth, and other economic indicators. Some studies suggest the crisis could have long-lasting effects: for example, high unemployment, if persistent, could lead to skill erosion and lower future earnings for those affected. Finally, since the crisis began, federal, state, and local governments have faced greater fiscal challenges, in part because of reduced tax revenues from lower economic activity and increased spending to mitigate the impact of the recession.

While the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act's (Dodd- Frank Act) reforms could enhance the stability of the U.S. financial system and provide other benefits, the extent to which such benefits materialize will depend on many factors whose effects are difficult to predict. According to some academics, industry representatives, and others, a number of the act's provisions could help reduce the probability or severity of a future crisis and thereby avoid or reduce the associated losses. These include subjecting large, complex financial institutions to enhanced prudential supervision, authorizing regulators to liquidate a financial firm whose failure could pose systemic risk, and regulating certain complex financial instruments. In contrast, some experts maintain these measures will not help reduce the probability or severity of a future crisis, while others note that their effectiveness will depend on how they are implemented by regulators, including through their rulemakings, and other factors, such as how financial firms respond to the new requirements. Quantifying the act's potential benefits is difficult, but several studies have framed potential benefits of certain reforms by estimating output losses that could be avoided if the reforms lowered the probability of a future crisis.

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