By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson
The influential Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius has a new research note out (with Sven Jari Stehn), “Thoughts on the Macroeconomic Impact of Basel III,” arguing that the move to raise capital standards for banks will put a serious crimp in growth in the United States – knocking 1.5 to 2 percent off gross domestic product in the next few years. Their findings are questionable, but in any case we should broaden the discussion to consider exactly how banks like Goldman Sachs affect our macroeconomic dynamics going forward – particularly if they are able to effectively lobby against higher capital. Growth based on risky banking has a tendency to prove illusory.
There are three issues. First, what is the short-term impact of raising capital requirements? Second, how should capital be increased? And third, and perhaps most important, do we really need global banks like Goldman Sachs to operate in their recent “high risk – highly variable returns” mode?
In their note, which is not in the public domain, Mr. Hatzius and Mr. Stehn are willing to acknowledge that raising capital standards can help make banks safer and that this is good for sustained growth over a sufficiently long period of time (think a decade or more), as the Bank for International Settlements suggests. But they make the case that raising capital – at least in the form that this is likely to take place – can slow growth over the next several years. Continue reading