Great news: “Too big to fail” banks even bigger now

posted at 9:51 am on April 16, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

More than two years ago, Barack Obama railed against “too big to fail” banks and pledged to prevent the “further consolidation” of the banking system.  Did Obama succeed?  According to Bloomberg, the five banks that held assets equal to 43% of the US economy in 2007 before the financial crisis and the bank bailout now control assets that equal 56% of the US economy:

Two years after President Barack Obama vowed to eliminate the danger of financial institutions becoming “too big to fail,” the nation’s largest banks are bigger than they were before the credit crisis.

Five banks – JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy, sparking concern that trouble at a major bank would rock the financial system and force the government to step in as it did during the 2008 crunch.

“Market participants believe that nothing has changed, that too-big-to-fail is fully intact,” said Gary Stern, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

That specter is eroding faith in Obama’s pledge that taxpayer-funded bailouts are a thing of the past. It is also exposing him to criticism from Federal Reserve officials, Republicans and Occupy Wall Street supporters, who see the concentration of bank power as a threat to economic stability.

Obama made these pledges in early 2010 in support of the Dodd-Frank bill.  That passed in the summer of 2010 with some bipartisan support.  After more than 18 months in effect, the only impact this has had on “too big to fail” (TBTF) is to raise capital requirements and an “unwinding” plan in case of financial failure.  Those plans have already been called “unrealistic” by former TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky, who scoffed at the notion that an institution with more than $2 trillion in assets can be rationally “unwound,”  and insists that the Obama administration has made “almost no progress” on ending TBTF.

They’re not talking about it much anymore, either.  While JP Morgan’s assets increased 15% since the time Obama signed Dodd-Frank, a search on the White House website for “too big to fail” + “banks” nets only 200 hits, most from two years ago.  In contrast, a search for “contraception” gets 295 hits, which seems to indicate that the Obama administration considers contraception almost 50% more important than TBTF.

Okay, that may have been a little too snarky for your taste.  How about comparing it to another major part of the Obama economic message?  A search for “Buffett Rule” at the White House website results in 20,800 hits, 104 times the number for TBTF banks.  That only makes sense if one thinks that the danger of 400 families complying with current tax code and a potential revenue of no more than $5 billion a year in taxes (under static analysis) is 104 times more important than the consolidation of the banking industry and the continuance of the need for taxpayers to backstop huge banks to keep the American financial system from collapsing.

This is what passes for priorities in Obamanomics and in governance in the Hope and Change era.


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