LONDON – Over the last three years, oceans of ink (or bytes) have been expended on articulating schemes to solve the conundrum of “too big to fail” banks. Many academics and pundits have castigated regulators and central bankers for their inability to understand the obvious attractions of so-called “narrow banking,” a restoration of Glass-Steagall-era separation of commercial and investment/merchant banking, or dramatically higher capital requirements. If only one of these remedies were adopted, the world would be a safer and happier place, and taxpayers would no longer be at risk of bailing out feckless financiers.
In response, bankers have tended to argue that any interference in their business would be an unconscionable assault on their inalienable human right to lose shareholders’ and depositors’ money in whatever way they please. Moreover, they argue that the cost of any increase in required equity capital would simply be passed on to borrowers in the form of higher interest rates, bringing economic growth to a grinding halt.