By Simon Johnson, co-author of 13 Bankers
Of all the weak, ill-informed, and misleading pieces written on the “resolution authority” – a central tenet of the Dodd bill – by far the most disappointing is the Washington Post editorial in Sunday’s paper.
I fully appreciate that these are complex issues and I understand that journalists frequently write under great time pressure.
But honestly, if you don’t know the answer to a question – you should really just call Treasury, the White House or Senator Dodd’s people. What even they will tell you, in my experience – if you press them hard enough (i.e., don’t fall for the initial spin) is that it is incorrect, or at least significantly incomplete and misleading, to say that the Dodd bill will create:
“an executive-branch resolution process for systemically important firms that is separate from bankruptcy and therefore allows officials to move swiftly to resolve a troubled institution in a crisis.”
This statement is wrong for a simple reason: the Dodd resolution authority would not help resolve (i.e., shut down in an orderly manner) large cross-border financial firms, because the authority is U.S. and not international (or cross-border). Do not misunderstand me: The resolution authority in the bill is a fine idea and worth supporting – it will help create a clear legal framework for the resolution of bank holding companies and nonbank financial companies (i.e., it would extent the FDIC-type resolution process, which is far from being a bailout).
But the Dodd resolution authority simply will not work for the cross-border megabanks; this is not my opinion, this is an incontrovertible fact that is true by definition. A domestic resolution authority does not give you the right to manage the failure process in other countries or across borders – for that you would need an international resolution authority and this is not in the cards now or in the foreseeable future (and the Dodd bill does not change that fact in the slightest).
The Dodd bill has some good pieces, including its domestic resolution authority, but it does not go far enough – and that is the point of the Brown-Kaufman amendment (mentioned but apparently not at all understood by the Post).
Given that the Washington Post still has a large staff of excellent journalists working around the world, they could try asking G20 deputies about this in detail – or even just consult with top regulators in the UK who can lay this all out for them. And while they are at it, it would be worth writing a story on why there is no G20-level process to establish a cross-border resolution mechanism – and no likelihood of such a mechanism for the next 20 years.
Or the Post could even talk to the people at the top of the megabanks – just don’t take their general word at face value regarding claims that the resolution authority will help; ask them to spell out in detail how it would be applied to the cross-border issues at JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, or Goldman Sachs.
This is not a random topic that has sprung unexpected on editorial writers in the past week. This issue has been hotly debated in public for at least a year. How could the Washington Post, of all newspapers, put its name – at this stage in the game – behind such manifestly inaccurate and misleading statements?
The Post should immediately issue a correction not just on this specific point, but also on their entire editorial position relative to this issue – because once they accept this error (hard I know, but they will be hearing about this a lot), the logic of their existing position crumbles completely.