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Simon Johnson at Baseline Scenario sheds light on Sen. Dodd’s proposed financial reform legislation, and it’s more of the same old, same old we’ve come to expect from Washington—the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing:

“…officials are lining up to solemnly confirm that “too big to fail” will be history once the Dodd bill passes. But this is simply incorrect.  Focus on this: How can any approach based on a US resolution authority end the issues around large complex cross-border financial institutions?  It cannot.

The resolution authority, you recall, is the ability of the government to apply a form of FDIC-type intervention (or modified bankruptcy procedure) to all financial institutions, rather than just banks with federally-insured deposits as is the case today.  The notion is fine for purely US entities, but there is no cross-border agreement on resolution process and procedure – and no prospect of the same in sight.


Why exactly do you think big banks, such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, have been so outspoken in support of a “resolution authority”?  They know it would allow them to continue not just at their current size – but actually to get bigger.  Nothing could be better for them than this kind of regulatory smokescreen.  This is exactly the kind of game that they have played well over the past 20 years – in fact, it’s from the same playbook that brought them great power and us great danger in the run-up to 2008.

When a major bank fails, in the years after the Dodd bill passes, we will face the exact same potential chaos as after the collapse of Lehman.  And we know what our policy elite will do in such a situation – because Messrs. Paulson, Geithner, Bernanke, and Summers swear up and down there was no alternative, and people like them will always be in power.  If you must choose between collapse and rescue, US policymakers will choose rescue every time…

Once you understand that the resolution authority is an illusion, you begin to understand that the Dodd legislation would achieve nothing on the systemic risk and too big to fail front.

On reflection, perhaps this is exactly why the sponsors of this bill are afraid to have any kind of open and serious debate.  The emperor simply has no clothes.