Too big to fail, and swallowing New York

| NY Torch

In a much-linked article, the Washington Post reports that “the biggest” of the nation’s too-big-to-fail “banks are even bigger” today, with three big banks alone owning more than 30 percent of the nation’s deposits, and four big banks issuing “one of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards.”

The banks likely will get even bigger in the future, despite supposed regulatory constrictions, because government guarantees and the cheap money they generate speak louder than words.

According to FDIC data cited in the piece, big banks — those with $100 billion plus in assets — can borrow at rates of a third of a percentage point lower than other banks, more than quadruple the advantage they had pre-crisis.

Too-big-to-fail is good for New York in the short term; we now benefit from a government-guaranteed industry that’s still throwing off big bonuses absent reasonable regulation from Washington.

But it’s bad for New York’s long-term competitiveness. Too-big-to-fail can’t last forever; it can last only as long as the U.S. government is able and willing to support it.

Thirty-five years ago, the financial sector’s debt was 17 percent of the nation’s GDP; today, it’s 118 percent. Iceland’s financial industry grew to 10 times GDP before the government could no longer bail it out.

We don’t know high ours can go, but we may find out.

In the meantime, government distortion of one industry crowds the people and businesses who can compete on their own merits out of New York.