“Losses Encourage Prudence”

I wonder if Russ Roberts saw the opinion piece, How to Shrink the “Too-Big-to-Fail” Banks, in Monday’s Wall Street Journal from Richard Fisher and Harvey Rosenblum, who are, respectively, the CEO and Director of Research, at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

I wonder if Russ Roberts has seen it, because it appears to agree with his hypothesis that a history of government bailout of banks contributed to the financial crisis, because bankers took on more risk than they otherwise would.

Here are Fisher and Rosenblum’s first three paragraphs:

A dozen megabanks today control almost 70% of the assets in the U.S. banking industry. The concentration of assets has been in progress for years, but it intensified during the 2008–09 financial crisis, when several failing giants were absorbed by larger, presumably healthier ones. The result is a lopsided financial system.

Meanwhile, the mere 0.2% of banks deemed “too big to fail” are treated differently from the other 99.8%, and differently from other businesses. Implicit government policy has made these institutions exempt from the normal processes of bankruptcy and creative destruction. Without fear of failure, these banks and their counterparties can take excessive risks.

It also emboldens a sense of immunity from the law. As Attorney General Eric Holder admitted to the Senate on March 6, when banks are considered too big to fail it is “difficult to prosecute them . . . if we do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy.”

That last paragraph paints an image for me of the TBTF bankers holding the economy hostage for the taxpayer ransom. I wish I could draw.

Here they sum up the problem rather well:

…market discipline is still lacking for the largest dozen or so institutions, as it was during the last financial crisis. Why should a prospective purchaser of bank debt practice due diligence if in the end, regardless of new layers of regulation and oversight, the issuing institution won’t be allowed to fail?

The return of marketplace discipline and effective due diligence of banking behemoths is long overdue.

In case you are wondering, prospective purchasers of bank debt practicing due diligence is an example of market discipline, just like you practicing due diligence on your car purchase.

Credit Fisher and Rosenblum for going on to offer a solution, which involves rolling back the Federal government safety net and restructuring TBTF banks into entities that can go through speedy bankruptcies so they will be “too small to save”.

I like it. Read the whole thing.

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