Amar Bhide, a former McKinsey colleague, one-time proprietary trader, and now professor at the Fletcher School, takes a position in the New York Times today that goes well beyond Volcker Rule restrictions. He argues that all financial deposits need to be guaranteed, and as a result, what is done with those deposits needs to be restricted severely.
I could not have said this better myself:
Relying on the Fed and other central banks to counter panics is dangerous brinkmanship. A lender of last resort ought not to be a first line of defense. Rather, we need to take away the reason for any depositor to fear losing money through an explicit, comprehensive government guarantee. The government stands behind all paper currency regardless of whose wallet, till or safe it sits in. Why not also make all short-term deposits, which function much like currency, the explicit liability of the government?
Guaranteeing all bank accounts would pave the way for reinstating interest-rate caps, ending the competition for fickle yield-chasers that helps set off credit booms and busts…
Banks must therefore be restricted to those activities, like making traditional loans and simple hedging operations, that a regulator of average education and intelligence can monitor. If the average examiner can’t understand it, it shouldn’t be allowed. Giant banks that are mega-receptacles for hot deposits would have to cease opaque activities that regulators cannot realistically examine and that top executives cannot control. Tighter regulation would drastically reduce the assets in money-market mutual funds and even put many out of business. Other, more mysterious denizens of the shadow banking world, from tender option bonds to asset-backed commercial paper, would also shrivel.
These radical, 1930s-style measures may seem a pipe dream. But we now have the worst of all worlds: panics, followed by emergency interventions by central banks, and vague but implicit guarantees to lure back deposits.
Go read the op ed in full. And circulate it widely. We are past the point of half measure when it comes to banking.