Ever since the whole financial crisis began, and the concept of “too big to fail” became a common phrase, I’ve been wondering why the US gov’t didn’t set up a simple provision in any bailout procedure: if you are too big to fail, and because of that need a gov’t bailout, then a part of that bailout means you need to become small enough to fail. I think it’s a perfectly reasonable suggestion that has been pretty much totally ignored.
So, when news came out that the biggest banks, the ones deemed “too big to fail,” are now getting even bigger, you might think that I’d view that as a bad sign. And… partly, I do. But not for the reasons you might expect. The issue of “too big to fail” isn’t the bottom line size of the bank, it was about how interconnected it was in the rest of the economy, and how any ripple effects of a failure would damage (significantly) other parts of the economy. But, since the government has done pretty much next to nothing to actually deal with that sort of systematic risk (and, no, putting in place a “systematic risk” manager, as we keep hearing, isn’t going to fix the problem), it should come as no surprise that these banks still have such risks.
But, the fact that, by themselves, these banks are growing isn’t a bad sign. Given what the government has done, it’s actually a good sign. You should be a lot more upset if, after the government gave these banks so much money, they went out and lost it all. Instead, many of them have at least put it to good use (and some have returned money to the government at decent interest rates — though, the amount returned still is a blip compared to the amount at risk).
The real issue isn’t the size of the banks, but how interconnected they are. But little to nothing has been done to take on that problem — which is a bad thing. However, given that, it’s at least a decent sign that these banks we’ve given so much money to are actually doing better these days.