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The Banks that Ate the Economy

LONDON – Bank of England Governor Mark Carney surprised his audience at a conference late last year by speculating that banking assets in London could grow to more than nine times Britain’s GDP by 2050. His forecast represented a simple extrapolation of two trends: continued financial deepening worldwide (that is, faster growth of financial assets than of the real economy), and London’s maintenance of its share of the global financial business.

These may be reasonable assumptions, but the estimate was deeply unsettling to many. Hosting a huge financial center, with outsize domestic banks, can be costly to taxpayers. In Iceland and Ireland, banks outgrew their governments’ ability to support them when needed. The result was disastrous.