Tag Archives: Mervyn King

Battle Of The Banking Policy Heavyweights

By Simon Johnson

Just when it seemed that the debate over banking was winding down – with overwhelming victories on almost all dimensions for the people who run the world’s largest cross-border financial institutions – two of the biggest name policy heavyweights have entered the arena.  Both voices are typically listened to most carefully within official circles and yet their messages today are diametrically opposed.

Which one is right?

Speaking on the side of greater reform for the biggest banks, Mervyn King – governor of the Bank of England – gave a forceful interview to the British newspaper The Telegraph at the end of last week. 

“Why do banks in general want to pay bonuses? It’s because they live in a ‘too big to fail’ world in which the state will bail them out on the downside.”

In Mr. King’s view, casino-type banking caused the crisis of 2007-08.

 “Financial services don’t like the word ‘casino’, but instruments were created and traded only within the financial community. It was a zero sum game. No one knew which ones were winners when the crisis hit. Everyone became a suspect. Hence, no one would provide liquidity to any of those institutions.”

“We allowed a [banking] system to build up which contained the seeds of its own destruction.”

 And “reform” efforts so far do not amount to much.

“We’ve not yet solved the ‘too big to fail’ or, as I prefer to call it, the ‘too important to fail’ problem. The concept of being too important to fail should have no place in a market economy.” Continue reading

Banking In A State

Banking on the State” by Andrew Haldane and Piergiorgio Alessandri is making waves in official circles.  Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, is widely regarded as both a technical expert and as someone who can communicate his points effectively to policymakers.  He is obviously closely in line – although not in complete agreement – with the thinking of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England.

Haldane and Alessandri offer a tough, perhaps bleak assessment.  Our boom-bust-bailout cycle is, in their view, a “doom loop”.  Banks have an incentive to take excessive risk and every time they and their creditors are bailed out, we create the conditions for the next crisis.

Any banker who denies this is the case lacks self-awareness or any sense of history, or perhaps just wants to do it again. Continue reading