I believe that our best hope lies somewhere other than making our largest financial institutions impossible to break. Instead, I think we need to make our financial system easy to fix. It was with that idea in mind that, writing in National Review two years ago, I proposed breaking up the big banks. J. P. Morgan’s announced loss serves to reinforce my view.
My biggest objection to large financial institutions continues to be what I see as the inevitable collusion of politics and economics that results. When large banks have resources, politicians will be tempted to treat them as piñatas, taking whacks at them in order to extract money to distribute to constituents (see the recent “foreclosure settlement,” or the pressure being placed on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to write down principal on loans). When large banks get in trouble, politicians will be tempted to bail them out.
In my view, we do not need the thousands of pages of regulation represented by Dodd-Frank. We do not need to ask regulators to divine the difference between speculation and “real banking,” as envisioned by the Volcker Rule. Instead, we should seek limits on the asset size of individual banks. J. P. Morgan today is about ten times as large as any bank ought to be. The general public should not have to lose sleep worrying about this or any other individual bank’s fate, and with smaller banks, they wouldn’t have to.