On Wednesday, Senators Sherrod Brown and Ted Kaufman unveiled a “SAFE banking Act” with a clear and powerful purpose: Break up the big banks.
The proposal places hard leverage and size caps on financial institutions. It is well crafted, based on a great deal of hard thinking, and — as reported on the front page of The New York Times this week — the issue has the potential to draw a considerable amount of support.
The idea is simple, in the sense that the largest six banks in the American economy are currently “too big to fail” in the eyes of the credit market (and presumably in the leading minds the Obama administration — which saved all the big banks, without conditions, in March-April 2009). The bill put forward by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the chairman of the Banking Committee, has some sensible proposals — and is definitely not an approach that supports “bailouts” — but it does not really confront the problem of the half-dozen megabanks.
In the American political system — where the power of major banks is now so manifest — there is no way to significantly reduce the risks posed by these banks unless they are broken up. Continue reading