The “Wall Street Mind” and “Too Big to Fail”
Simon Johnson is the former IMF chief economist and current professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. And to say he is skeptical about the friendly relationship between government and Wall Street — particularly Goldman Sachs — would be putting it way too lightly.
He seems to be looking around at the industry “overhaul” that has occurred since the banks tanked the economy and wondering why everything is exactly the same as it was before. Very little has changed, he asserts, and he still thinks that at least one major firm remains entirely too big too fail regardless of how much Congress members want to walk around patting themselves on the back for passing Dodd-Frank last summer.
At the Institute for New Economic Thinking conference in Bretton Woods, he asked the following. (His transcribed comments here come from the video below.)
“Who in the room thinks that if Goldman Sachs were to hit a rock, a hypothetical rock — I’m not saying they have, I’m not saying they will. If they were to hit a rock today, Saturday, who here thinks they’ll be allowed to fail like Lehman Brothers did unimpeded by any kind of government bailout starting Monday morning? Can Goldman Sachs fail?”
After this, he pauses and looks around the room from his podium. You can’t see the crowd on the video but it becomes apparent that no one spoke up or raised their hand.
“I’ve asked this question around the country [and] only one person has ever raised his hand. It was in New York. He had a big short position in Goldman stock. That’s New York. But seriously, it can’t happen. Goldman Sachs is a $900 billion bank, total balance sheet. You might want to say it’s too big to fail. You might want to use the language of [Bank of England governor] Mervyn King and say it’s ‘too important to fail.’ You wouldn’t allow it to fail. I wouldn’t allow it to fail if it was my decision. You wouldn’t either. It’s too scary today given the nature of the global economy. And from that scariness comes power — comes an enormous amount of power.”
He then asks the audience what happened to the plans to reform this? Why is “too big too fail” still allowed to persist? Why is, as he claims, “it going the other way … too big to fail firms have gotten bigger”?
In his explanation is a lot of truth and straight talk about what he believes has been a failure to reform. Watch the video below in its entirety to hear all his insight. It’s 10 minutes long but you can make the time. (via The Economist)
In somewhat related news, New York magazine has put together a multi-part feature on “The Mind of Wall Street.” At it’s core, the piece asks if, when it comes to post-financial crisis reform, Wall Street won then why is it so worried.
Combined, both go a long way to explaining the current climate in the financial sector.