I’d be a bit surprised to see Neil Barofsky grace the airwaves of CNBC again. Clearly the empty suits over there don’t appreciate someone who doesn’t immediately defer to the Masters of the Universe. You simply cannot make the simple case that TARP had a specific goal to increase lending and help homeowners that went unfulfilled without bluster and anger and obfuscation. The CNBC bots could not understand that simple point, which Barofsky made over and over again. They look at the figures provided to them by the banks and the government and make the determination that “TARP worked.” But that’s an unnecessarily narrow view of the program. The program had more metrics than simply “make money for the banks and stop financial collapse.” And it never followed through on any of those steps.
Incidentally, there’s no chance that any of these people read Barofsky’s book. The tell is when the one guy cites “the subtitle of your book,” which I assume is as far as he got.
But I have good news for CNBC. I have another exciting guest opportunity for them. They can hit up one William B. Harrison, Jr., a former chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, who writes today that the big banks should not be broken up.
Banks aren’t always popular even in the best of times, but the anger of recent years is unprecedented. The anger, while understandable, has fueled the misguided idea that we should break up the nation’s largest banks.
The argument is simple and sound-bite ready: In the years before the crisis, greedy bankers used their political muscle to grow from small, specialized banks into giant, all-purpose financial institutions. This transformation led to the financial crisis because banks became too big to manage and too big to fail. If we break them back up, we will eliminate the risk of future crises.
The problem is that every part of this argument is based on a fallacy.
It’s good to see the New York Times devoting some of their space in defense of those poor, downtrodden mega-banks who otherwise just can’t get a fair shake in this country. Thank you William B. Harrison, Jr., for providing voice for the voiceless.
Let’s go through what Harrison considers “fallacies.” One, he writes that consolidation in the banking sector was simply a natural development. Well, in the absence of regulators mindful of the inherent risks involved in creating too big to fail banks, yes! Harrison claims that this generates “greater efficiency in banking,” but the Bank of England and others have run the numbers and found that efficiency and economies of scale cease to have an effect beyond about the $300 billion range, well short of where our biggest banks are today.
Then, Harrison claims that big banks aren’t responsible for the financial crisis because none of the institutions that failed were big banks. He neglects to note that all of them failed from the collapse of the housing bubble and the growth of the derivatives sector, all funded and goosed by the big banks.
Finally, Harrison claims that big financial institutions are not too big to manage. He says this as an alumni of JPMorgan Chase, which recently lost as much as $7 billion on a single trade from their Chief Investment Office in London. And I haven’t even gotten into the complete wreck banks made of their mortgage securitization and mortgage servicing arms, which led to the breaking of the largest market in the world, the US residential housing market.
I also love how Harrison responds to the charge that banks have outsized influence on the political process with the simple phrase “this is just false,” with no evidence to back that up.
The New York Times really embarrasses themselves by publishing this apologia to the banks. But at least it gets someone else on the Rolodex of the producers over at CNBC.