Tag Archives: TBTF

Agreeing on the Problem

By James Kwak

Over the past month, Simon and I have become very closely associated with the Brown-Kaufman amendment to break up big banks, and that’s an association I welcome, especially given the last chapter of 13 Bankers. The fact that the amendment came from basically nowhere and got thirty-three votes in the Senate is, to me, an encouraging sign. But while this solution looks like it is unlikely to pass in this session of Congress — and there is debate about whether it is the right solution to begin with — the more encouraging sign is the amount of agreement on the problem to be solved: a financial system that is too big, too concentrated, and too powerful.

I wrote a guest post for the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, a group blog, on this broader issue and some of the other solutions that have been floated. As we’ve said many times, as long as debate moves in this direction, that’s progress.

The Oracle of Kansas City

By James Kwak

Many of you have probably already seen Shahien Nasiripour’s interview with Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and the most prominent advocate of simply breaking up big banks. (Paul Volcker is more prominent, but his views are more nuanced; the famous Volcker limit on bank size, it turns out, would not affect any existing banks, at least as interpreted by the Treasury Department.) It largely elaborates on Hoenig’s positions that we’ve previously applauded in this blog, so I’ll just jump to the direct quotations:

On megabanks:

“I think they should be broken up. . . . We’ve provided this support and allowed Too Big To Fail and that subsidy, so that they’ve become larger than I think they otherwise would. I think by breaking them up, the market itself would begin to help tell you what the right size was over time.”

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“Break Up the Banks” – in the National Review

By James Kwak

“Big banks are bad for free markets,” economist Arnold Kling (who usually blogs at EconLog) begins in the conservative flagship National Review, and it only gets better from there. “There is a free-market case for breaking up large financial institutions: that our big banks are the product, not of economics, but of politics.”

Like other conservative economists, Kling uses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as an example of financial institutions that grew too large through a combination of lobbying expertise and government guarantees . . . and frankly I agree with him. But he is equally unsparing of other large banks that were supposedly “pure” private actors but turned out to have their own government guarantees.

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Senator: Which Part Of “Too Big To Fail” Do You Not Understand?

By Simon Johnson

When a company wants to fend off a hostile takeover, its board may seek to put in place so-called “poison pill” defenses – i.e., measures that will make the firm less desirable if purchased, but which ideally will not encumber its operations if it stays independent.

Large complex cross-border financial institutions run with exactly such a structure in place, but it has the effect of making it very expensive for the government to takeover or shut down such firms, i.e., to push them into any form of bankruptcy.

To understand this more clearly you can,

  1. Look at the situation of Citigroup today, or
  2. Read this new speech by Senator Ted Kaufman. Continue reading

Dallas Fed President: Break Up Big Banks

By James Kwak

We’ve cited Thomas Hoenig, president of the Kansas City Fed, a number of times on this blog for his calls to be tougher on rescued banks and to break up banks that are too big to fail. This has been a bit unfair to Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Fed, who has been equally outspoken on the TBTF issue (although we do cite him a couple of times in our book).

Bloomberg reports that Fisher recently called for an international agreement to break up banks that are too big to fail. Here are some quotations, taken from the Bloomberg article (the full speech is here):

“The disagreeable but sound thing to do” for firms regarded as “too big to fail” would be to “dismantle them over time into institutions that can be prudently managed and regulated across borders.”

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As Is?

The White House background briefing is that their proposals would freeze biggest bank size “as is” — this makes no sense at all.

Twenty years of reckless expansion, a massive crisis, and the most generous bailout in human history are not a recipe for “right” sized banks. There is a lot of work the administration hasn’t done on the details — this is a classic policy scramble, in which ducks have not been lined up. But we should treat this as the public comment phase for potentially sensible principles — and an opportunity to propose workable details.  The banks are already hard at work, pushing in the other direction.

It’s a big potential policy change, and my litmus test is simple – does it, at the end of the day, imply breaking Goldman Sachs up into 4 or 5 independent pieces?

By Simon Johnson

Welcome, Barack

So Barack Obama has come around to the idea that big banks need to be made smaller and that smarter regulation (contingent capital, enhanced capital requirements for large banks, resolution authority, etc.) just won’t cut it. Today he proposed limits on market share (measured by a bank’s share of total bank liabilities in the United States) and a prohibition on internal hedge funds, private equity funds, and proprietary trading.

This is great. It means that the administration is moving in the right direction–breaking up big banks–and the president is putting his name behind it. For more on why these are good ideas, see Mike Konczal.

OK, now for the caveats.

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