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Monday, May 14, 2012

Paul Krugman: Why We Regulate

The financial industry needs better safeguards against excessive, potentially costly risk-taking:

Why We Regulate, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Jamie Dimon, the chairman and C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase,... has ... been fond of giving ... speeches about how he and his colleagues know what they’re doing, and don’t need the government looking over their shoulders. So there’s a large heap of poetic justice — and a major policy lesson — in JPMorgan’s shock announcement that it somehow managed to lose $2 billion in a failed bit of financial wheeling-dealing.
Just to be clear, businessmen ... make money-losing mistakes all the time. That in itself is no reason for the government to get involved. But banks are special, because the risks they take are borne, in large part, by taxpayers and the economy as a whole. ...
So what can be done? In the 1930s, after the mother of all banking panics, we arrived at a workable solution, involving both guarantees and oversight. On one side, the scope for panic was limited via government-backed deposit insurance; on the other, banks were subject to regulations intended to keep them from abusing the privileged status they derived from deposit insurance... Most notably, banks with government-guaranteed deposits weren’t allowed to engage in the often risky speculation characteristic of investment banks like Lehman Brothers.
This system gave us half a century of relative financial stability. Eventually, however, the lessons of history were forgotten. New forms of banking without government guarantees proliferated...
It’s clear, then, that we need to restore the sorts of safeguards that gave us a couple of generations without major banking panics. It’s clear, that is, to everyone except bankers and the politicians they bankroll... Did I mention that Wall Street is giving vast sums to Mitt Romney, who has promised to repeal recent financial reforms?
Enter Mr. Dimon. JPMorgan ... managed to avoid many of the bad investments that brought other banks to their knees. This apparent demonstration of prudence has made Mr. Dimon the point man in Wall Street’s fight to delay, water down and/or repeal financial reform. ... Just trust us, the JPMorgan chief has in effect been saying; everything’s under control.
Apparently not. ...
For the moment Mr. Dimon seems chastened, even admitting that maybe the proponents of stronger regulation have a point. It probably won’t last; I expect Wall Street to be back to its usual arrogance within weeks if not days.
But the truth is that we’ve just seen an object demonstration of why Wall Street does, in fact, need to be regulated. Thank you, Mr. Dimon.

    Posted by on Monday, May 14, 2012 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Regulation | Permalink  Comments (67)


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