quarta-feira, 7 de abril de 2010

13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown

[from MIT Sloan School of Management Newsroom]

Channeling Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, MIT Sloan School of Management Professor
Simon Johnson warns in a new book that a “new financial oligarchy” threatens not only the nation’s economy, but its political core. In 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, Johnson, says the book provides “the back story” for the 2008 financial crisis “and for all the issues being raised now around financial reform. We hope the book helps people have a badly needed conversation about what we must do to push back against dangerous, narrow interest groups that now threaten our economic well-being.”

In 13 Bankers, Johnson, a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, and co-author
James Kwak cite historical precedents and offer financial analysis to conclude that a second financial shock is inevitable unless the financial and political stranglehold held on Washington by the nation’s biggest banks is broken. “The best defense against a massive financial crisis is a popular consensus that too big to fail is too big to exist,” the authors write. “This is at its heart a question of politics, not of economics or of regulatory technicalities.”

The book points out that the current concentration of financial and political power is not unlike other moments in American history. President Theodore Roosevelt, for example, challenged the monopoly powers of banker and industrialist J.P. Morgan. “No one thought he could win,” Johnson says in an interview, “but he did succeed in the first prosecution of a corporation under the Sherman Antitrust Act.” Roosevelt, he said, began a process that helped people understand the need to rein in the power of corporate giants, such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, “which was arguably more important as a single company in 1910 than J.P. Morgan was then or J.P. Morgan Chase is now,” says Johnson.

Similar leadership is needed from the Obama administration and Congress now, according to 13 Bankers, which concludes that regulatory changes and other responses to date have been vastly inadequate. Johnson supports the administration’s proposed consumer protection measures, but overall, “You can’t just tweak a few rules and expect to rein in these big institutions.” Instead, the book calls for the six biggest banks to be broken up and for hard limits to be imposed so that banks cannot rebuild themselves into political and financial powerhouses. “Saying that we cannot break up our largest banks is saying that our economic futures depend on these six companies,” notes Johnson. “That thought should frighten us into action.”

Written by Simon Johnson and James Kwak
Even after the ruinous financial crisis of 2008, America is still beset by the depredations of an oligarchy that is now bigger, more profitable, and more resistant to regulation than ever. Anchored by six megabanks—Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley—which together control assets amounting, astonishingly, to more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, these financial institutions (now more emphatically “too big to fail”) continue to hold the global economy hostage, threatening yet another financial meltdown with their excessive risk-taking and toxic “business as usual” practices. How did this come to be—and what is to be done? These are the central concerns of 13 Bankers, a brilliant, historically informed account of our troubled political economy.

In 13 Bankers, Simon Johnson—one of the most prominent and frequently cited economists in America (former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT, and author of the controversial “The Quiet Coup” in The Atlantic)—and James Kwak give a wide-ranging, meticulous, and bracing account of recent U.S. financial history within the context of previous showdowns between American democracy and Big Finance: from Thomas Jefferson to Andrew Jackson, from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They convincingly show why our future is imperiled by the ideology of finance (finance is good, unregulated finance is better, unfettered finance run amok is best) and by Wall Street’s political control of government policy pertaining to it.

As the authors insist, the choice that America faces is stark: whether Washington will accede to the vested interests of an unbridled financial sector that runs up profits in good years and dumps its losses on taxpayers in lean years, or reform through stringent regulation the banking system as first and foremost an engine of economic growth. To restore health and balance to our economy, Johnson and Kwak make a radical yet feasible and focused proposal: reconfigure the megabanks to be “small enough to fail.”

Lucid, authoritative, crucial for its timeliness, 13 Bankers is certain to be one of the most discussed and debated books of 2010.