Bankruptcy law in the United States, which serves as an important precedent for the treatment of derivatives under insolvency law worldwide, gives creditors in derivatives transactions special rights and immunities in the bankruptcy process, including virtually unlimited enforcement rights against the debtor (hereinafter, the “safe harbor”). The concern is that these special rights and immunities grew incrementally, primarily due to industry lobbying and without a systematic and rigorous vetting of their consequences.
This type of legislative accretion process is a form of path dependence—a process in which the outcome is shaped by its historical path. To understand path dependence, consider Professor Mark Roe’s example of an 18th century fur trader who cuts a winding path through the woods to avoid dangers. Later travelers follow this path, and in time it becomes a paved road and houses and industry are erected alongside. Although the dangers that affected the fur trader are long gone, few question the road’s inefficiently winding route.