FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Don’t Touch the Banks!

Those who like banks that are too big to fail will love the latest financial reform proposal in the House. The bill put forward by House Finance Committee Chairman Barney Frank does little to change the current structure of the financial system.

The too big to fail (TBTF) banks will be left in place, even bigger and less able to fail than before. There will be nothing done to separate commercial and investment banking, so giants like Goldman Sachs will be free to speculate with money guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The main difference is that the Federal Reserve Board will be granted even more power than it has now. And, we will tell the Fed to be smarter in the future, so that it doesn’t make the same stupid mistakes that gave us the current crisis.

While we all want a smarter Fed, it is not clear that the bill before Congress will get us one, even though it will definitely give us a more powerful Fed. The new Fed will be able to decide which financial firms need to be put through a bankruptcy-like resolution process, and will be allowed to pay for it with a virtually unlimited amount of taxpayer dollars.

While the bill proposes that the cost of cleaning up after a big bank failure is to be paid by other big banks, in fact the mechanism laid out in the bill virtually guarantees the opposite. Rather than raising a pool of money in advance from the big banks to cover the cost of a bailout, the bill proposes that large banks would be assessed a special fee only after a failure.

To see how strange this is, suppose Citigroup or some other major bank collapsed, requiring $100 billion to pay off creditors. (We actually should not need a penny to pay off anyone other than insured depositors, if we were serious about the banks not being TBTF.) Either the failed bank was acting as a rogue institution, engaged in behavior that was far more reckless than its peer institutions, or it was doing the same thing as everyone else.

In the first case, would it make sense to tax the other large banks $100 billion because Citigroup acted recklessly? If the recklessness of one bank had led to its collapse in an environment where its competitors are sound, this would imply that there had been some serious failures of regulation. Why would we tax other large banks because the Fed, the FDIC, and/or other regulatory bodies had failed in their job?

Alternatively, suppose Citigroup collapses because it was doing the same thing as other banks, but was just slightly more reckless or unlucky. In this situation, which is similar to the one we faced last fall, all of the banks will be severely stressed. It would be impossible to hit them with a special fee. Could we have slapped a special fee on Citigroup and Bank of America last fall to have them cover the cost of the failure of Lehman? At the time, imposing any significant fee would have almost certainly pushed several more banks to insolvency.

The bottom line is that this bill is almost certain to leave the taxpayers holding the bag for future bailouts. Even worse, it does nothing about the moral hazard created by having institutions that are TBTF. There is nothing in the bill to lead creditors to believe that the government will not make good on their loans to Goldman, J.P. Morgan, and the other banking behemoths.

There is a large and growing consensus across the political spectrum for breaking up banks that are too big to fail. Advocates of this position include former Federal Reserve Board Chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, Sheila Bair, the current head of the FDIC, and Simon Johnson, the former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. There is no reason that we need financial institutions that are so big that they cannot be safely unwound without large commitments of government money.

The only people who seem to stand outside this consensus are those who hold power and are steering the process of financial reform. This is largely the crew whose regulatory failures gave us the current disaster. If they cannot learn from their mistakes, then someone else will have to drive the reform process.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy.

This article originally appeared in the The Guardian.

 

 

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Peter Crowley
Outsourcing Still Affects Us: This and AI Worker Displacement Need Not be Inevitable
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
David Yearsley
Bass on Top: the Genius of Paul Chambers
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail