Progress, Yet No Progress: The Two Lines of Defense Against Too-Big-To-Fail

Aug 7, 2014Mike Konczal

It’s been a week of whiplash when it comes to the issue of Too Big To Fail (TBTF). First the GAO released a report saying that it is difficult to find any bailout subsidy for the largest banks, implying that there's been progress on ending TBTF. Then, late Tuesday, the FDIC and Federal Reserve released a small bombshell saying that the living wills submitted by the 11 largest banks “are not credible and do not facilitate an orderly resolution under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.” These living wills were designed to make sure that banks could fail without causing chaos in the economy, and this report implies TBTF is still with us.

One of them has to be wrong, right? In order to understand this contradiction it's important to map out where the actual disagreement is. Doing so will also help explain how the battle over TBTF will play out in the near future.

So look - a large, systemically risky financial firm is collapsing! Oh noes! What has happened and will happen?

There are two levels of defense when it comes to ending this firm. The first is through a bankruptcy court, and the second is through the FDIC taking over the firm, much like what it does to a failing regular bank. The next several paragraphs give some technical details (skip ahead if your eyes are already glazing over).

<technical>

As you can see in the graphic above, before the failure, regulators will have failed to use “prompt corrective action” to guide the firm back to solvency. These are efforts regulators use to push a troubled firm to fix itself before a collapse. For example, if bank capital falls below a certain point, the bank can’t pay out bonuses or make capital purchases in order to attempt to make it more secure.

Once a failure happens, there are two lines of defense. The default course of action is putting the firm in bankruptcy, similar to what happened with Lehman Brothers. Why might this be a problem for a major financial firm? The Bankruptcy Code is slow and deliberate, when financial firms often need to be resolved fast. It isn't designed to preserve ongoing firm business, which is a problem when those businesses are essential to the economy as a whole. It can’t prevent runs by favoring short-term creditors. There is no guaranteed funding available to keep operations running and to help with the relaunch. And there are large problems handling the failure of a firm operating in many different countries.

With these concerns in mind, Dodd-Frank sets up a second line of defense. Regulators can direct the FDIC to take over the failed firm and do an emergency resolution (OLA), like they do with commercial banks. In order to active the OLA, there’s a comically complicated procedure in which the Treasury Secretary, the Federal Reserve Board, and the FDIC all have to turn their metaphoric keys.

OLA, particularly with its new "single point of entry" (SPOE) framework, solves many of the problems mentioned above. OLA comes with a line of emergency funding from Treasury to facilitate resolution if private capital isn’t available, as it likely won’t be in a crisis. OLA would also be able to prioritize speed, as well as protect derivatives and short-term credit, stopping potential runs. SPOE, by focusing its energy at the bank's holding company level, also helps to deal with coordinating the failure internationally. However, OLA would be executed by administrators instead of judges, and it could put taxpayer money at risk. (More on all of this here.)

</technical>

The Contradiction

So, what is the battle over? How are we making progress yet also making no progress?

All the innovation in the past 18 months in combating TBTF has taken place at the second line of defense. When Sheila Bair, for instance, says there’s been significant progress in ending taxpayer bailouts, or the Bipartisan Policy Institute releases a statement saying adopting an SPOE approach has the potential to eliminate TBTF, they are referencing the progress that is taking place at this second line of defense.

But there's no progress at the first line of defense. The living wills that regulators found insufficient are, by statute, part of the first line of defense. Dodd-Frank says that if the living will “would not facilitate an orderly resolution of the company under title 11, [Bankruptcy]” then the FDIC and the Fed “may jointly impose more stringent capital, leverage, or liquidity requirements, or restrictions on the growth, activities, or operations of the company.” They purposefully didn't drop the hammer in their announcement, instead telling the banks to go back to the drawing board rather than enforcing stricter requirements. But they can get as aggressive as they want here. 

So the FDIC and the Fed are drawing a line in the sand here - the first line of defense needs to work. The regulators call out the banks for their “failure to make, or even to identify, the kinds of changes in firm structure and practices that would be necessary to enhance the prospects for orderly resolution.” So making this line of defense work will not be a trivial endeavor.

If the first line of defense doesn’t work, why don’t we just rely on the second line? Thomas Hoenig, Vice Chairman of the FDIC and an aggressive opponent of TBTF, released a statement accompanying the regulators' release, specifically saying that they would not find this argument convincing. It’s worth noting how clear he is about this:

“Some parties nurture the view that bankruptcy for the largest firms is impractical because current bankruptcy laws won’t work given the issues just noted. This view contends that rather than require that these most complicated firms make themselves bankruptcy compliant, the government should rely on other means to resolve systemically important firms that fail. This view serves us poorly by delaying changes needed to assert market discipline and reduce systemic risk, and it undermines bankruptcy as a viable option for resolving these firms. These alternative approaches only perpetuate 'too big to fail.'”

That’s a strong statement that they are going to hold the first line.

Note here that the GAO results could still stand. The market's lack of a subsidy could reflect the second line of defense. Or it could reflect that even if they both fail, Congress, which is gridlocked, would not pass a bailout. It's not clear what would happen if a major bank failed, but the market is right not to assume the banks are permanently safe.

Politics

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Those who think reform didn’t go far enough like the idea of fighting on the first line, because there is significant leeway to push for more systemic changes to Wall Street. To get a sense of the stakes, Sheila Bair told Tom Braithwaite back in 2010 that she would break up an institution that couldn’t produce a credible living will.

This will also animate the Right, but in a different way. From the get-go, their preferred approach to TBTF was just to create a special new bankruptcy code Chapter, removing any type of independent regulatory administrative state like the FDIC from the issue. It’s not clear if they’ll support regulators pushing aggressively to restructure firms so they can go through the bankruptcy code as it is written right now.

The administration appears to be silent for now. It’s also not clear whether it will see this as a second bite to get higher capital requirements, or if they is happy enough with the second line of denfense as it is. If the second is true, that would be unfortunate. The banks remain undercapitalized and too complex for bankruptcy, and regulators have a responsiblity to make sure each line of defense is capable of stopping the panic of 2008.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

It’s been a week of whiplash when it comes to the issue of Too Big To Fail (TBTF). First the GAO released a report saying that it is difficult to find any bailout subsidy for the largest banks, implying that there's been progress on ending TBTF. Then, late Tuesday, the FDIC and Federal Reserve released a small bombshell saying that the living wills submitted by the 11 largest banks “are not credible and do not facilitate an orderly resolution under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.” These living wills were designed to make sure that banks could fail without causing chaos in the economy, and this report implies TBTF is still with us.

One of them has to be wrong, right? In order to understand this contradiction it's important to map out where the actual disagreement is. Doing so will also help explain how the battle over TBTF will play out in the near future.

So look - a large, systemically risky financial firm is collapsing! Oh noes! What has happened and will happen?

There are two levels of defense when it comes to ending this firm. The first is through a bankruptcy court, and the second is through the FDIC taking over the firm, much like what it does to a failing regular bank. The next several paragraphs give some technical details (skip ahead if your eyes are already glazing over).

<technical>

As you can see in the graphic above, before the failure, regulators will have failed to use “prompt corrective action” to guide the firm back to solvency. These are efforts regulators use to push a troubled firm to fix itself before a collapse. For example, if bank capital falls below a certain point, the bank can’t pay out bonuses or make capital purchases in order to attempt to make it more secure.

Once a failure happens, there are two lines of defense. The default course of action is putting the firm in bankruptcy, similar to what happened with Lehman Brothers. Why might this be a problem for a major financial firm? The Bankruptcy Code is slow and deliberate, when financial firms often need to be resolved fast. It isn't designed to preserve ongoing firm business, which is a problem when those businesses are essential to the economy as a whole. It can’t prevent runs by favoring short-term creditors. There is no guaranteed funding available to keep operations running and to help with the relaunch. And there are large problems handling the failure of a firm operating in many different countries.

With these concerns in mind, Dodd-Frank sets up a second line of defense. Regulators can direct the FDIC to take over the failed firm and do an emergency resolution (OLA), like they do with commercial banks. In order to active the OLA, there’s a comically complicated procedure in which the Treasury Secretary, the Federal Reserve Board, and the FDIC all have to turn their metaphoric keys.

OLA, particularly with its new "single point of entry" (SPOE) framework, solves many of the problems mentioned above. OLA comes with a line of emergency funding from Treasury to facilitate resolution if private capital isn’t available, as it likely won’t be in a crisis. OLA would also be able to prioritize speed, as well as protect derivatives and short-term credit, stopping potential runs. SPOE, by focusing its energy at the bank's holding company level, also helps to deal with coordinating the failure internationally. However, OLA would be executed by administrators instead of judges, and it could put taxpayer money at risk. (More on all of this here.)

</technical>

The Contradiction

So, what is the battle over? How are we making progress yet also making no progress?

All the innovation in the past 18 months in combating TBTF has taken place at the second line of defense. When Sheila Bair, for instance, says there’s been significant progress in ending taxpayer bailouts, or the Bipartisan Policy Institute releases a statement saying adopting an SPOE approach has the potential to eliminate TBTF, they are referencing the progress that is taking place at this second line of defense.

But there's no progress at the first line of defense. The living wills that regulators found insufficient are, by statute, part of the first line of defense. Dodd-Frank says that if the living will “would not facilitate an orderly resolution of the company under title 11, [Bankruptcy]” then the FDIC and the Fed “may jointly impose more stringent capital, leverage, or liquidity requirements, or restrictions on the growth, activities, or operations of the company.” They purposefully didn't drop the hammer in their announcement, instead telling the banks to go back to the drawing board rather than enforcing stricter requirements. But they can get as aggressive as they want here. 

So the FDIC and the Fed are drawing a line in the sand here - the first line of defense needs to work. The regulators call out the banks for their “failure to make, or even to identify, the kinds of changes in firm structure and practices that would be necessary to enhance the prospects for orderly resolution.” So making this line of defense work will not be a trivial endeavor.

If the first line of defense doesn’t work, why don’t we just rely on the second line? Thomas Hoenig, Vice Chairman of the FDIC and an aggressive opponent of TBTF, released a statement accompanying the regulators' release, specifically saying that they would not find this argument convincing. It’s worth noting how clear he is about this:

“Some parties nurture the view that bankruptcy for the largest firms is impractical because current bankruptcy laws won’t work given the issues just noted. This view contends that rather than require that these most complicated firms make themselves bankruptcy compliant, the government should rely on other means to resolve systemically important firms that fail. This view serves us poorly by delaying changes needed to assert market discipline and reduce systemic risk, and it undermines bankruptcy as a viable option for resolving these firms. These alternative approaches only perpetuate 'too big to fail.'”

That’s a strong statement that they are going to hold the first line.

Note here that the GAO results could still stand. The market's lack of a subsidy could reflect the second line of defense. Or it could reflect that even if they both fail, Congress, which is gridlocked, would not pass a bailout. It's not clear what would happen if a major bank failed, but the market is right not to assume the banks are permanently safe.

Politics

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. Those who think reform didn’t go far enough like the idea of fighting on the first line, because there is significant leeway to push for more systemic changes to Wall Street. To get a sense of the stakes, Sheila Bair told Tom Braithwaite back in 2010 that she would break up an institution that couldn’t produce a credible living will.

This will also animate the Right, but in a different way. From the get-go, their preferred approach to TBTF was just to create a special new bankruptcy code Chapter, removing any type of independent regulatory administrative state like the FDIC from the issue. It’s not clear if they’ll support regulators pushing aggressively to restructure firms so they can go through the bankruptcy code as it is written right now.

The administration appears to be silent for now. It’s also not clear whether it will see this as a second bite to get higher capital requirements, or if they is happy enough with the second line of denfense as it is. If the second is true, that would be unfortunate. The banks remain undercapitalized and too complex for bankruptcy, and regulators have a responsiblity to make sure each line of defense is capable of stopping the panic of 2008.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

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Daily Digest - August 4: The Underappreciated Success of Financial Reform

Aug 4, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Obama’s Other Success (NYT)

Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.

Obama’s Other Success (NYT)

Dodd-Frank financial reform is proving more successful than expected, writes Paul Krugman. He cites Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal in debunking the claim that the law created permanent bailouts.

The NFL Cheerleaders Should Be Your Fair-Pay Heroes (TNR)

Bryce Covert looks at what's needed to achieve wage growth in today's economy. She talks to Mike Konczal, who suggests that the Fed could help everyone's wages if it focused on unemployment.

Economy Adds 209,000 Jobs in July; Unemployment Rate Edges Up to 6.2 Percent (WaPo)

Ylan Q. Mui breaks down Friday's jobs report, which was generally positive but showed that underemployment (part-timers who want more hours) and long-term unemployment haven't budged.

Relying on Online Listings, Young Americans Struggle to Find Jobs (The Guardian)

Today's system of online job applications isn't making the search any easier, writes Jana Kasperkevic, as job-seekers find that their applications seem to disappear into black holes.

Work and Worth (Robert Reich)

Robert Reich emphasizes the difference between pay and value to society, given that kindergarten teachers and social workers make far less than hedge fund managers.

New on Next New Deal

The Worker-Owned Small Business Revolution

In his video speculation for the Next American Economy project, Gar Alperovitz predicts that as MBAs realize that worker-owned companies achieve higher productivity, the model will grow.

Thinking About the Women in Think Tanks

Bringing more women into the upper echelons of policy work will require engaging younger women in this work, writes Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow Hannah Zhang.

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The GAO Can't Distinguish Between a Good and a Bad Liquidation

Aug 1, 2014Mike Konczal

To emphasize a point I made yesterday, we need to think of ending Too Big To Fail (TBTF) as a continuum rather a simple yes-no binary. The process of failing a large financial firm through the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) can go very well, or it could go very poorly. It's important to understand that the recent GAO report, arguing that the TBTF subsidy has largely diminished, is incapable of telling the difference.

What would make for a successful termination of a failed financial firm under OLA? To start, bankruptcy court would be a serious option as a first response. Assuming that didn't work, capital in the firm is structured in such a way that facilitates a successful process. There's sufficient loss-absorbing capital both to take losses and give regulators options in the resolution. There's also sufficient liquidity, both within the firm due to strong new capital requirements and through accountable lender-of-last-resort lending, that prevents a panic from destroying whatever baseline solvency is in the firm. As a result, less public funding is necessary to achieve the goals.

Living wills actually work, and allow the firm to be resolved in a quick and timely manner. The recapitalization is sufficient to repay any public funding without having to assess the financial industry as a whole. There's no problems with international coordination, and the ability of the FDIC to act as a receiver for derivatives contracts is standardized and clear in advance, reducing legal uncertainty.

That's a lot! And it's a story about what could go right or wrong that is becoming more and more prevalent in the reform community [1]. Let's chart it out, along with the opposite happening.

Again, from the point of view of the GAO report, these are identical scenarios. Both would impose credit losses on firms. Thus the GAO's empirical model, scanning and predicting interest rates spreads to imply credit risk, picks up both scenarios the same way. Whether OLA goes smoothly or is a disaster doesn't matter. But from the point of view of taxpayers, those trying to deal with the uncertainty and panic that would come with such a scenario, and the economy as a whole, the bad scenario is a major disaster. And we are nowhere near the point where success can be taken for granted. Tightening the regulations we have is necessary to making the successful scenario more likely, and the apparent lack of a subsidy should not distract us from this.

 

[1] Note the common similarities along these lines in the critical discussion of OLA from across the entire reform spectrum. You can see this story in different forms in Stephen Lubben's "OLA After Single Point of Entry: Has Anything Changed?" for the Unfinished Mission project,  the comment letter from the Systemic Risk Council, Too Big to Fail: The Path to a Solution from the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the "Failing to End Too Big to Fail" report from the Republican Staff of the House Committee on Financial Services.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

 

To emphasize a point I made yesterday, we need to think of ending Too Big To Fail (TBTF) as a continuum rather a simple yes-no binary. The process of failing a large financial firm through the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) can go very well, or it could go very poorly. It's important to understand that the recent GAO report, arguing that the TBTF subsidy has largely diminished, is incapable of telling the difference.

What would make for a successful termination of a failed financial firm under OLA? To start, bankruptcy court would be a serious option as a first response. Assuming that didn't work, capital in the firm is structured in such a way that facilitates a successful process. There's sufficient loss-absorbing capital both to take losses and give regulators options in the resolution. There's also sufficient liquidity, both within the firm due to strong new capital requirements and through accountable lender-of-last-resort lending, that prevents a panic from destroying whatever baseline solvency is in the firm. As a result, less public funding is necessary to achieve the goals.

Living wills actually work, and allow the firm to be resolved in a quick and timely manner. The recapitalization is sufficient to repay any public funding without having to assess the financial industry as a whole. There's no problems with international coordination, and the ability of the FDIC to act as a receiver for derivatives contracts is standardized and clear in advance, reducing legal uncertainty.

That's a lot! And it's a story about what could go right or wrong that is becoming more and more prevalent in the reform community [1]. Let's chart it out, along with the opposite happening.

Again, from the point of view of the GAO report, these are identical scenarios. Both would impose credit losses on firms. Thus the GAO's empirical model, scanning and predicting interest rates spreads to imply credit risk, picks up both scenarios the same way. Whether OLA goes smoothly or is a disaster doesn't matter. But from the point of view of taxpayers, those trying to deal with the uncertainty and panic that would come with such a scenario, and the economy as a whole, the bad scenario is a major disaster. And we are nowhere near the point where success can be taken for granted. Tightening the regulations we have is necessary to making the successful scenario more likely, and the apparent lack of a subsidy should not distract us from this.

 

[1] Note the common similarities along these lines in the critical discussion of OLA from across the entire reform spectrum. You can see this story in different forms in Stephen Lubben's "OLA After Single Point of Entry: Has Anything Changed?" for the Unfinished Mission project,  the comment letter from the Systemic Risk Council, Too Big to Fail: The Path to a Solution from the Bipartisan Policy Center, and the "Failing to End Too Big to Fail" report from the Republican Staff of the House Committee on Financial Services.

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Let's Hope the GAO Report Ends the Too-Big-to-Fail Subsidy Distraction

Jul 31, 2014Mike Konczal

The GAO just released its long-awaited report on whether Wall Street receives an implicit subsidy for still being seen as Too Big To Fail (TBTF). I'm still working through the report, but the headline conclusion is that "large bank holding companies had lower funding costs than smaller ones during the financial crisis" and that there is "mixed evidence of such advantages in recent years. However, most models suggest that such advantages may have declined or reversed."

For a variety of reasons, whether this subsidy exists has become a major focal point in the discussion about financial reform. The Obama administration wants the headline that TBTF is over, and the President's opponents want to argue that Dodd-Frank has institutionalized bailouts. Hopefully this GAO report puts that "permanent bailouts" talking point to rest.

More generally, however, I find that there are three problems with this emphasis on a possible Wall Street subsidy in the financial reform debate:

The first is that it makes it seem like the bailouts were the only problem with the financial sector. Let's do a thought experiment: imagine that in September 2008, Lehman Brothers went crashing into bankruptcy and...nothing happened. There was no panic in interbank lending or the money market mutual funds. The Federal Reserve didn't do emergency lending, and nobody suggested that Congress pass TARP. There was nothing but crickets out there in the financial press.

Even if that had happened, we'd still have needed a massive overhaul of the financial system. Think of all the other things that went wrong: Wall Street fueled a massive housing bubble that destroyed household wealth and generated bad debts that have choked the economy for half a decade. Neighborhoods were torn apart by more than 6 million foreclosures while bankers laughed all the way to the bank. A hidden derivatives market radically distorted the price of credit risk and led to the creation of instruments designed to rip off investors. Wall Street failed at its main job -- to allocate capital to productive ends in the economy. Instead, it went on a rampage that did serious harm to investors, households, and ultimately our economy. 

TBTF is the most egregious example of the out-of-control financial system, and it's a major problem that needs to be checked. But if emphasized too much, it makes it seem as if the problem is only how much damage a firm can do to the economy when it fails. In fact, the problem is much broader than that, and solving it requires transparency in the derivatives market, consumer protections, accountability in the securities Wall Street makes and sells, a focus on actual business lines, and regulation of shadow banking as a whole, not just last rites for individual firms.

This is important because the second problem is that some will take this report as evidence that reform is just right, or has even gone too far. And scanning the coverage, I see that the commentators who are applauding the GAO's conclusions are often the same people who have said that, for instance, liquidity rules in Dodd-Frank have gone too far, or that the Volcker Rule should be tossed out. This is even as the GAO points to these provisions as necessary reforms.

We can debate whether a subsidy for failing banks exists or how big it is, but the goal of regulation should not be to fine-tune that number. The subsidy is only a symptom of much larger problems with the financial system, and the point of regulation is to build a system that works. 

Finally, the third issue is that emphasizing the subsidy makes us think of ending TBTF as a binary, check-yes-or-no, pass-fail kind of test. Again, there are political reasons for this emphasis, but TBTF isn't a switch that can be flipped on or off. Addressing the problem is an ongoing process that will be carried out through the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA), and that process can be either more or less robust.

It's good that the financial markets have confidence in the OLA, but the FDIC is still crafting the living wills and the details of how they will be implemented. Major questions and challenges still remain. For instance, a rule has not yet been written to determine how much unsecured debt firms are required to carry. And conservatives are already floating the idea that a successful OLA would be a "bailout" anyway

The success of an orderly liquidation process will depend on many different factors, but we should think of it not as a binary, but as a continuum -- a continuum on which one end has more capital and slimmer business lines to protect taxpayer dollars and keep the risks contained, and the other end has us crossing our fingers and hoping that the aggregate damage isn't too bad. [UPDATE: See more on this point from me here.]

The GAO report is welcome news. We've made progress on the most outrageous problem with the financial sector. But that doesn't mean the work is done by any means.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

Header image via Thinkstock

The GAO just released its long-awaited report on whether Wall Street receives an implicit subsidy for still being seen as Too Big To Fail (TBTF). I'm still working through the report, but the headline conclusion is that "large bank holding companies had lower funding costs than smaller ones during the financial crisis" and that there is "mixed evidence of such advantages in recent years. However, most models suggest that such advantages may have declined or reversed."

For a variety of reasons, whether this subsidy exists has become a major focal point in the discussion about financial reform. The Obama administration wants the headline that TBTF is over, and the President's opponents want to argue that Dodd-Frank has institutionalized bailouts. Hopefully this GAO report puts that "permanent bailouts" talking point to rest.

More generally, however, I find that there are three problems with this emphasis on a possible Wall Street subsidy in the financial reform debate:

The first is that it makes it seem like the bailouts were the only problem with the financial sector. Let's do a thought experiment: imagine that in September 2008, Lehman Brothers went crashing into bankruptcy and...nothing happened. There was no panic in interbank lending or the money market mutual funds. The Federal Reserve didn't do emergency lending, and nobody suggested that Congress pass TARP. There was nothing but crickets out there in the financial press.

Even if that had happened, we'd still have needed a massive overhaul of the financial system. Think of all the other things that went wrong: Wall Street fueled a massive housing bubble that destroyed household wealth and generated bad debts that have choked the economy for half a decade. Neighborhoods were torn apart by more than 6 million foreclosures while bankers laughed all the way to the bank. A hidden derivatives market radically distorted the price of credit risk and led to the creation of instruments designed to rip off investors. Wall Street failed at its main job -- to allocate capital to productive ends in the economy. Instead, it went on a rampage that did serious harm to investors, households, and ultimately our economy. 

TBTF is the most egregious example of the out-of-control financial system, and it's a major problem that needs to be checked. But if emphasized too much, it makes it seem as if the problem is only how much damage a firm can do to the economy when it fails. In fact, the problem is much broader than that, and solving it requires transparency in the derivatives market, consumer protections, accountability in the securities Wall Street makes and sells, a focus on actual business lines, and regulation of shadow banking as a whole, not just last rites for individual firms.

This is important because the second problem is that some will take this report as evidence that reform is just right, or has even gone too far. And scanning the coverage, I see that the commentators who are applauding the GAO's conclusions are often the same people who have said that, for instance, liquidity rules in Dodd-Frank have gone too far, or that the Volcker Rule should be tossed out. This is even as the GAO points to these provisions as necessary reforms.

We can debate whether a subsidy for failing banks exists or how big it is, but the goal of regulation should not be to fine-tune that number. The subsidy is only a symptom of much larger problems with the financial system, and the point of regulation is to build a system that works. 

Finally, the third issue is that emphasizing the subsidy makes us think of ending TBTF as a binary, check-yes-or-no, pass-fail kind of test. Again, there are political reasons for this emphasis, but TBTF isn't a switch that can be flipped on or off. Addressing the problem is an ongoing process that will be carried out through the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA), and that process can be either more or less robust.

It's good that the financial markets have confidence in the OLA, but the FDIC is still crafting the living wills and the details of how they will be implemented. Major questions and challenges still remain. For instance, a rule has not yet been written to determine how much unsecured debt firms are required to carry. And conservatives are already floating the idea that a successful OLA would be a "bailout" anyway

The success of an orderly liquidation process will depend on many different factors, but we should think of it not as a binary, but as a continuum -- a continuum on which one end has more capital and slimmer business lines to protect taxpayer dollars and keep the risks contained, and the other end has us crossing our fingers and hoping that the aggregate damage isn't too bad. [UPDATE: See more on this point from me here.]

The GAO report is welcome news. We've made progress on the most outrageous problem with the financial sector. But that doesn't mean the work is done by any means.

Follow or contact the Rortybomb blog:
 
  

Header image via Thinkstock

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Daily Digest - July 30: Technology Builds Community, But Will It Limit Prosperity?

Jul 30, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Civic Tech and Engagement: How City Halls Can Help Construct Stronger Neighborhoods (Tech President)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says that local governments demonstrating responsiveness through technology can improve public trust.

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Civic Tech and Engagement: How City Halls Can Help Construct Stronger Neighborhoods (Tech President)

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford says that local governments demonstrating responsiveness through technology can improve public trust.

Health Insurers Press to Exempt Millions From ACA (The Hill)

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch explains the latest push by insurance companies to lower their own costs by limiting the consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act.

Financial Market Oversight, Economic Recoveries, and Full Employment: Some Crucial Linkages (On The Economy)

Jared Bernstein says that implementing Dodd-Frank is essential to achieve full employment. For how to deal with financial oversight, he recommends turning to Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal.

Sympathy for the Overdog (Slate)

The employees of Market Basket, a Northeast grocery chain, are protesting their CEO's ousting. Luke O'Neil reports that they credit him with their fair wages and benefits, and fear a backslide.

New on Next New Deal

Roosevelt Reacts: NLRB Holds McDonald's Accountable for Labor Violations

Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong and Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch praise yesterday's National Labor Relations Board ruling for its common-sense support for workers.

Through Innovation, People Will Live Longer and Earn Less

In his video speculation for the Next American Economy initiative, MIT professor Frank Levy predicts the rise of an anti-technology movement as the economy stays stagnant.

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Live at TNR: Dodd-Frank at Year Four

Jul 23, 2014Mike Konczal

Live at The New Republic, I have a piece describing Year Four of Dodd-Frank, which celebrates its birthday this week. The news coverage of the past year has had a "stuck, spinning its wheels" argument to it. I argue that this past year saw some major and important advancements, directions on where to go next, and also made what will be the biggest challenges going forward very clear. I hope you check it out.

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Live at The New Republic, I have a piece describing Year Four of Dodd-Frank, which celebrates its birthday this week. The news coverage of the past year has had a "stuck, spinning its wheels" argument to it. I argue that this past year saw some major and important advancements, directions on where to go next, and also made what will be the biggest challenges going forward very clear. I hope you check it out.

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Daily Digest - July 23: It's Been a Good Year for Financial Reform

Jul 23, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Ignore the Naysayers: Dodd-Frank Reforms Are Finally Paying Off (TNR)

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Ignore the Naysayers: Dodd-Frank Reforms Are Finally Paying Off (TNR)

The past year has seen important successes, like higher capital requirements, writes Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal, and the next steps for financial reform are getting clearer.

We’re Arresting Poor Mothers for Our Own Failures (The Nation)

Bryce Covert points to the policy failures of welfare reform, which requires parents to work or look for work to receive benefits but hasn't provided for child care, leading to recent high-profile arrests.

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training (Time)

In the first significant legislative reform to job training in a decade, Maya Rhodan says the Obama administration and Congress put training programs on a more forward-looking path.

SEC Is Set to Approve Money-Fund Rules (WSJ)

The new rules target institutional investors over individuals, says Andrew Ackerman, aiming to train investors to accept fluctuations and prevent panicked mass sell-offs.

TaskRabbit Redux (New Yorker)

Adrienne Raphel writes that TaskRabbit's recent relaunch makes it more clear that for all their marketing, online tools for hiring labor or transportation are about commerce, not community.

New on Next New Deal

Dr. Strangelove and the Halbig Decision

Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal points out the fallacy in right-wing claims that there is a "doomsday machine" in the Affordable Care Act: doomsday machines only work if you tell people about them.

Full-Time Employment May Give Way to a Free Agent Economy

In his speculation on the future for the Next American Economy project, Carl Camden, CEO of Kelly Services, suggests that temporary employment firms like his will become the purveyors of social services.

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What Will the American Economy Look Like 26 Years From Today?

Jul 21, 2014Bo Cutter

Earlier this summer, the Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Find out what they had to say.

Participants in our recent convening speculated:

Earlier this summer, the Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Find out what they had to say.

Participants in our recent convening speculated:

“The post-WWII model of full-time, permanent employment proved itself the historical aberration we predicted: in 2040, only 12 percent of the American workforce is directly employed by corporate enterprises or government departments, and the average length of time spent on any one job is under six months.”

“New platforms and services will spring up to solve the problems of the micro-gig economy using distributed, peer-to-peer models of social insurance that will be hyper-local, but not based on geography. They will be based on the micro-niche identities that we build online -- accountants for bacon. Latinos who play Dungeons & Dragons. What have you.”  

“In the late '20s, the Know Everything Party assumed their final national political victories of mandating every American household be limited to three robots, one 3D printer, and own a minimum of three guns would be enough to secede and be left alone. After 15 years of explosive growth in income and wealth inequality, unimaginable to us in 2014, it all came to a head in our second Civil War, or what historians are calling the Bloodless War.”

Guided by the belief that we are on the precipice of fundamental and lasting economic change, the Next American Economy project gathered a group of 30 academics, business leaders, organizers, and technologists, and asked them to envision the long-term economic and political future of the United States. We gave our participants free rein to be bold in their speculations – to deviate from data, the conventional wisdom, or even their own expert opinions. The goal was not to predict the future, but to debate a series of critical questions: (a) Are we at an inflection point in the nature of innovation and technological change? (b) How will the rise of cities change the geography of economic activity? (c) How will economic trends alter the nature of work and employment? (d) Is the trend of widening income inequality likely to continue or stagnate?

What followed was a series of prescient, thoughtful, and often hilarious three- to four-minute speculations on topics ranging from the gig economy to the future of finance, from imminent civil war to the transformation of Google into a car company, and many more. Each speculation on its own could foster a day of debate and a sea of responses. For this reason, we will release one video speculation a day for the next three weeks, starting with David Autor’s description of economic polarization.

Our recent meeting was a first step toward our broader goal of identifying the trends likely to shape the future in order to identify the policy interventions needed to ensure the best possible outcome. The group identified key topics for further investigation and also found some areas of broad consensus.

  • 79 percent of participants believe “technological change will persist and will be big enough to disrupt business-as-usual."

  • 42 percent believe “a new paradigm of work is emerging and will change the nature of jobs for a large percentage of the population” and an additional 29 percent believe “a new paradigm has already emerged and you East Coast intellectuals are way behind the times.”

  • A total of 74 percent believe that even if an entrepreneurship booms leads to productivity growth it will not lead to job creation.

  • Nearly half (48 percent) believe that if inequality trends continue, the political backlash will be so extreme that our current system will change drastically in the next 25 years.

You can learn more about our project and find our forthcoming research on our website.

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is Director of the Next American Economy project. He was formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm, and served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

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Daily Digest - July 8: Will the Stock Market Boom Be a Bust for the Economy?

Jul 8, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Stiglitz: I'm 'very uncomfortable' with current stock levels (CNBC)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes the difference between a strong stock market and overall economic strength, reports Antonia Matthews.

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Stiglitz: I'm 'very uncomfortable' with current stock levels (CNBC)

Roosevelt Institute Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz emphasizes the difference between a strong stock market and overall economic strength, reports Antonia Matthews.

Union Wins $15 Minimum Wage for L.A. Schools' Service Workers (LA Times)

Howard Blume says the school board's unanimous approval of higher wages shows the growing power of the service workers' unions in Los Angeles, where many union members are also parents.

Why the Supreme Court’s Attack on Labor Hurts Women Most (The Nation)

Michelle Chen argues that limiting home health care workers' ability to organize will prevent many others in low-wage domestic work, primarily women, from improving working conditions.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch looks at the challenges presented by the Harris v. Quinn ruling.

Conservatives Say Cutting Unemployment Benefits Boosted the Jobs Numbers. This Chart Says Otherwise. (TNR)

Long-term unemployment is still falling at the same slow-and-steady pace as the past few years, writes Danny Vinik, indicating no link to the end of extended unemployment benefits.

Left Pushes Regulators to Lift Curtain on CEO Pay (The Hill)

Labor unions and other interest groups fear that upcoming regulations that require companies to disclose CEO-to-median-worker pay ratios will be diluted, says Megan R. Wilson.

Democrats Can Win with Populism — If They Play it Right (WaPo)

New polling data shows that many voters associate the Republican Party with big business and the wealthy, which Aaron Blakes sees as a key strategic point for Democrats in 2014.

Three Paths to Full Employment (AJAM)

Dean Baker's suggestions include increased government spending, as in the New Deal; reducing the trade deficit; and reducing the supply of labor with policies that push employers to hire more people.

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Daily Digest - June 26: People Awaken to Find Wall Street is a Crooked Road

Jun 26, 2014Rachel Goldfarb

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Wall Street and Washington Want You to Believe the Stock Market isn't Rigged. Guess What? It Still Is (The Guardian)

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Wall Street and Washington Want You to Believe the Stock Market isn't Rigged. Guess What? It Still Is (The Guardian)

Heidi Moore says investment in the stock market isn't down due to low investor confidence, but because more people are realizing the system isn't equal for all investors.

A Cure for Bloated CEO pay (Fortune)

Dean Baker proposes a "Director's Roulette" provision, which would withhold directors' compensation if a CEO pay package they approve had been voted down by a shareholder Say-on-Pay vote.

  • Roosevelt Take: Roosevelt Institute Fellow and Director of Research Susan Holmberg examines how Say-on-Pay begins to curb executive compensation.

Why did the White House Pass Up an Opportunity to Support a (Mostly) Good, Bipartisan Idea? (WaPo)

The White House rejected the proposed gas tax, needed to save the Highway Trust Fund that pays for infrastructure, but Jared Bernstein says an imperfect fix would have been better than nothing.

How the Government Subsidizes Wealth Inequality (CAP)

Harry Stein proposes that the U.S. government could reduce wealth inequality simply by changing tax policy for capital gains, since current subsidies give $2 trillion to the wealthy over 10 years.

How Connecticut’s Smart New Pension Plan Can Prevent Poverty in Retirement (The Nation)

Connecticut's new plan, which offers statewide benefits to private sector workers, will cost less than helping greater numbers of elderly poor down the line, writes Michelle Chen.

Ikea Plans to Increase Minimum Hourly Pay (NYT)

Steven Greenhouse reports on Ikea's new wage structure, which sets minimum wages on a store-by-store basis based on local cost of living, with an average minimum wage of $10.76.

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