Friday, October 30, 2009
I have previously debunked numerous false arguments used to defend the too big to fails. See this and this.
But the apologists for the TBTFs are now arguing that breaking up the beached whales ... er, giant banks ... will harm America's ability to compete with foreign banks.
Joshua Rosner (managing director of an independent financial services research firm), has written an important essay debunking this argument:
What fake excuse will the apologists for the TBTFs throw out next?
Those who argue against a more proactive reduction in risk and size of TBTF institutions will, as always, revert to an argument that strikes a natural chord in every American’s heart: ‘Doing so would create an unleveled international playing field for our institutions relative to their international competitors’. Level playing fields are a worthy goal, but this is not a relevant argument. Instead, this tired bromide must be resoundingly dismissed on several counts:
- Those countries with the largest banks as a percentage of GDP (Iceland, Ireland, Switzerland) demonstrated that a concentration of banking power can cause significant sovereign risk and tilt global economic playing fields away from that country.
- The likely breakups of ING, Lloyds and KBC suggest that it is we who seek to support an unlevel playing field where we subsidize our TBTF banks while other nations recognize the policy failures of moral hazard. If we continue down this path we will likely be at risk of violating international fair trade regimes.
- When the “unlevel playing field” argument is cited, keep in mind this reasoning supports the disadvantaging of 8000+ community banks relative to our largest banks, all in the name of protecting big banks from governmentally- subsidized international competition.
- There is no longer any evidence that, beyond a cost of capital advantage that comes with implied government support, there are sustainable and tangible economies of scale arising from being the largest. The financial supermarket concept has been proven a failure. The only ones who benefit are the high-level executives.
- We must demand that our legislators no longer allow unelected officials at the independent Federal Reserve to sign international accords created by the TBTF banks through supra-national bodies like the Basel Committee.
- Are we to believe that if we did not have such large and globally dominant firms, US borrowers might be paying more that the 29% interest that several of the TBTF firms are now charging on their card accounts? Perhaps we should think about what advantage our population has gained as a result of our financial institutions being such a large part of our economy or being globally dominant.
- Since when did we accept a national strategy of following rather than leading? When we do what is right, others follow. As example, consider the bank secrecy havens – they made money for a bit. Now, even the Swiss and the Cayman authorities are coming around to our view.
- We are already at a disadvantage given that the largest foreign banks operate in the US without any tier one capital requirement and yet mostlarge foreign banks have not built a bricks and mortar presence here. Nobody screams about their undercapitalization nor has that undercapitalization caused deposits to migrate to foreign banks.
That breaking up the giants and letting small and mid-sized banks, credit unions and state public banks compete fairly will shift the Earth's gravitational field as deposits shift away from the money centers?
Note: Rosner has a funny and potentially effective idea for putting pressure on Congress. He suggests that we all call our representatives and ask how much the lobbyists have paid them to destroy America's economy by propping up the too big to fail banks.
Rosner's actual language is somewhat over-the-top:
If leadership won’t add such language [reigning in the TBTFs], call your elected official and ask how much they actually receive when they agree to put on the kneepads.