Tackling Too Big To Fail: The Most Important Rightsizing in U.S. History
Why is it taking so long to write and implement new U.S. financial reform regulations?
September 11, 2012
All it takes to fix the grave problems in the world of finance is the rediscovery, and strict application, of one of America’s founding virtues — transparency. Most significantly, transparency will build the case for solving the “Too Big to Fail” problem.
The United States of America currently suffers from a severe problem of financial over-concentration. Not only do the assets of the five largest U.S. bank holding companies (Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Goldman Sachs) now represent in book value the equivalent of almost two-thirds of U.S. $15 trillion GDP.
The “Big Five” also issue half of all mortgages and two-thirds of all credit cards to U.S. customers. They control more than 40% of all U.S. bank deposits.
To add insult to injury, the five Too Big to Fail institutions have a stronger hold over the U.S. economy today than they did at the onset of the 2008 crisis.
Even worse, the Big Five deploy five lobbyists for every member of Congress in order to protect themselves from the few real teeth contained in the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
No wonder then that the rule-writing by the regulators is such a laborious process — and that the number of pages in the implementing regulations is metastasizing. That, however, is the industry’s very own doing — trying to dull to the maximum extent possible the will of the legislators.
And we call that democracy…
Stunningly, the systematic, all-out effort by the banks to try and stunt any real impact upon them by adding ever more verbiage to the regulation writing process, carving out exception after exception and impact-neutralizing “clarification” after clarification, isn’t the worst offense.
Nor is the fact that all this handiwork is done with the help of a horde multi-million-dollar lawyers who receive their most handsome annual salaries individually at the social price of creating openings aplenty for the Big Five to be free in their ways so that they can once again cause plenty of multi-billion dollar losses.
All of that is a stunning misapplication of the American concept of freedom — free to rake in the gains individually, but also free to offload the costs of one’s malfeasance, incompetence or sheer bad luck onto society at large.
No, the biggest act of cynicism perpetrated by these institutions is the fact that, while they do all this, they have the brass to blame government bureaucrats for the metastasizing volume of regulations. The latter don’t create that mess. They are, to a large extent, merely executors of the industry-imposed will.
Under those circumstances, tackling the Too Big to Fail institutions will not be an easy task.
Executive Director, Foundation for Fund Governance John Prout is the executive director of the Foundation for Fund Governance in Washington, DC. Prior to that, he spent more than two decades working in Europe, where he ran the trading rooms for Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and Mitsui Trust in London. He then moved to Credit Commerical […]
Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts.