The Durbin Amendment and Price Fixing

Senator Dick Durbin (D, IL) added to Dodd-Frank an amendment that mandated the maximum price large banks could charge merchants who process debit-card payments.  The House’s Financial Services Committee, in marking up Chairman Jeb Hensarling’s Financial Choice Act, included repeal of the Durbin Amendment.

Naturally, Durbin has demurred, and he did so, among other place, in a Letter to the Editor of The Wall Street Journal.

It’s no secret that Wall Street hates the swipe-fee law that I authored in 2010. This law finally reined in the debit swipe-fee price-fixing that Visa and MasterCard were doing on behalf of banks. The old rigged system permitted Visa and MasterCard to fix the same fees for all card-issuing banks, and without competition the fees always went up. It was a market failure and merchants and their customers ended up paying for it.


The 2010 reform law said that if the nation’s top 1% of biggest banks are going to let Visa and MasterCard price-fix their swipe fees, then the fees must be reasonable and proportional to the cost of conducting the transaction.

Wow.  Price fixing is OK as long as it’s Big Government doing to fixing, says the Progressive-Democrat from Illinois.  No.  There exist, already, laws against such collusion; all that’s necessary, were the banks actually colluding as Durbin claims, is to enforce existing law.  There is neither need nor excuse to expand Government by writing a new law to fix a failure from enforcing existing law.

Market failure?  Again, no.  Not every burble, bubble, or dislocation represents a market failure; indeed, they’re the normal volatility of a thriving free market.  Or they would be with less government interference so we actually had a free market.  Far from a market failure, this failure is another failure of Big Government’s central planning for our market.  It’s time—long past time—to dump the Durbin amendment.

It’s time—long past time—for competition to reenter the credit and debit card free market niche and to let the free market “fix” the prices.  It’s time—long past time—for Big Government to leave the market.

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