Simon Johnson: Why Are the Big Banks Suddenly Afraid? –

The threat of too-big-to-fail banks has not diminished. The combined assets of the 6 largest US banks is bigger now than in 2008. Simon Johnson, Professor of Entrepreneurship at M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, writes:

A growing number of serious-minded politicians are starting to support the point made by Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and a Republican presidential candidate in the recent primaries: global megabanks have become government-sponsored enterprises; their scale does not result from any kind of market process, but is rather the result of a vast state subsidy scheme.

…..Serious people on the right and on the left are reassessing if we really need our largest banks to be so large and so highly leveraged (i.e., with so much debt relative to their equity). The arguments in favor of keeping the global megabanks and allowing them to grow are very weak or nonexistent.

The big banks will vigorously defend any attempt to break them up and they have deep pockets. It would be far more effective and politically achievable to raise reserve requirements, lifting capital ratios and reducing leverage to the point that large and small institutions alike are no longer a threat to the economy. Even if we adopt a two-tier approach, with higher ratios for institutions above a certain size.

We need to remember that a fractional-reserve banking system is not an essential requirement of the capitalist system. All that is needed is an efficient intermediary between investors and borrowers. Equity-funded banks proved effective in funding Germany’s industrialization prior to WW1. Islamic banks today follow similar principles. Over-dependence on deposits is the primary cause of our current instability.

via Simon Johnson: Why Are the Big Banks Suddenly Afraid? –