Thomas Sowell has said that economics helps you understand that there are no solutions, only tradeoffs. In that spirit, I want to recommend Arnold Kling’s study of the financial crisis, Not What They Had in Mind . My favorite quote from the essay is a variant on Sowell’s:
The lesson is that financial regulation is not like a math problem, where once you solve it the problem stays solved. Instead, a regulatory regime elicits responses from firms in the private sector. As financial institutions adapt to regulations, they seek to maximize returns within the regulatory constraints. This takes the institutions in the direction of constantly seeking to reduce the regulatory “tax” by pushing to amend rules and by coming up with practices that are within the letter of the rules but contrary to their spirit. This natural process of seeking to maximize profits places any regulatory regime under continual assault, so that over time the regime’s ability to prevent crises degrades.