Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That's the Point (fg)

From John Cochrane and Luigi Zingales in the WSJ:
[..] More deeply, Lehman's lesson cannot be that the government must always bail out every large financial institution. [..] This crisis pushed our government close to its fiscal limits. The next one will be beyond what even our government can contain.

The big banks know the government will bail them out, and they are already bigger, more global, more integrated and "systemic" than ever. They are making huge trading profits—profits that must someday turn to losses. If brokerage and banking are "systemically important," they cannot be married to proprietary trading. Yet the financial-reform plans do not even talk about breaking up this marriage—they hope simply to regulate the behemoths instead.

This is a convenient story for large banks that dominate the lobbying and communication effort. And it absolves the Fed and Treasury of facing up to their long string of policy mistakes.

We don't pretend that we could have done any better. That's the point: A system with so much power vested in so few people, with so few rules, in which crises are managed with 2 a.m. conference calls, cannot possibly do better no matter how good the people at the top. Repeating the Lehman story lets us all ignore the fact that this system cannot go on.