The Unsustainable US Financial Sector

According to Bloomberg, the vast majority of the Big Five banks’ profits consisted of a taxpayer subsidy — the Too Big To Fail guarantee. If the Too Big To Fail banks had to lend at the rates offered to their non-Too Big to Fail competitors, their profits would be severely shrunk (in some cases, to a net loss):

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What does that mean?

That means that the American financial sector is a zombie, existing on the teat of the taxpayer.

It means the huge swathes of liquidity spent on saving the financial sector are ultimately good money chasing after bad.

As Bloomberg notes:

The U.S. financial industry — with almost $9 trillion in assets, more than half the size of the U.S. economy — would just about break even in the absence of corporate welfare. In large part, the profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.

Neither bank executives nor shareholders have much incentive to change the situation. On the contrary, the financial industry spends hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle on campaign donations and lobbying, much of which is aimed at maintaining the subsidy. The result is a bloated financial sector and recurring credit gluts.

This is extremely prescient stuff. The Fed since 2008 has reinflated the old bubbles, while allowing the same loot-and-pillage disaster-corporatist financial model to continue.

It is insane to repeat the same methods and expect different results. This credit glut, this new boom that has seen stocks rise closer and closer to their pre-crisis high (which may soon be exceeded) will just lead to another big 2008-style slump, just as the Fed’s reinflation of the burst tech bubble led to 2008 itself. This time the spark won’t be housing, it will be something else like an energy shock, or a war. Something that the Federal Reserve cannot directly control or fix by throwing money at it.

America (and the Western world in general) post-2008 needed real organic domestic growth built on real economic activity, not a reinflated bubble that let the TBTF financial sector continue to gorge itself into oblivion. 

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Protect the Banks at All Costs

Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob a country.

Those are the very true words that two weeks ago had a man in Pennsylvania arrested. His purported crime? Terroristic threats, and the attempted robbery of the bank he was protesting!

From CBS:

An Occupy Easton protester faces an attempted bank robbery charge following an arrest at an organized event at a bank – during which the “Occupier” was holding a sign that reportedly read “You’re being robbed.”

According to The Express-Times, Dave Gorczynski allegedly held cardboard signs outside a Wells Fargo Branch that read, “You’re being robbed,” while the other said, “Give a man a gun, he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob a country.”

Occupy Easton reports on their Facebook page that Gorczynski “was at the bank protesting the theft of our tax dollars, our homes, and our economy by the criminal banksters.”

Welcome to the new America — where banks must be protected at all costs. Whether it’s a bailout or a trumped up charge to silence a protestor, if the banks want it, they get it.

The district attorney in the case has dropped the charge of attempted robbery. However, a terroristic threat charge remains.

Meanwhile, the economic evidence is mounting that countries that want to recover need to tell the banks to take a hike.

Joe Stiglitz notes:

What Iceland did was right. It would have been wrong to burden future generations with the mistakes of the financial system.

And Paul Krugman writes:

What Iceland’s recovery demonstrated was the case for letting creditors of private banks gone wild eat the losses.

A funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net. Where everyone else was fixated on trying to placate international investors, Iceland imposed temporary controls on the movement of capital to give itself room to maneuver.

Krugman, it seems — after years of defending bank bailouts — is learning.

But what hope is there of telling the banks to take a hike when law enforcement, politicians and courts will gladly arrest, charge and try an anti-bank protestor exercising their constitutional right to free speech?

Law enforcement, politicians and courts have it upside down. It isn’t banks that need protection from protestors. It’s citizens that need protection from the banks.