Too Big To Be Deregulated?As Big Banks Teeter On Edge Of Abyss, Government Regulation May Rise Again

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The Treasury's Entity is seen as a Citigroup bailout by lot of people for the very simple reason that it is a Citigroup bailout. That might not be the only thing it is, but stupid is as stupid does, and one thing this stupid thing does (or will do, if it ever gets off the ground) is bailout Citigroup, which is reportedly on the hook for as much as $80 billion from it’s four mammoth SIVs. Since the fund could buy Citigroup's SIVs, it would reduce the amount that Citigroup would need to write off. And reducing write-offs is something Citi desperately wants to do right now.
There’s at least a fair amount of quiet clapping about the Treasury Department’s role in creating the Entity. Citigroup, some say, is too big to fail, and the Treasury Department should step in to prevent the kind of financial market disorder that would come from the toppling of the towering financial giant.
But this kind of logic has some rethinking the wisdom of the financial regulatory reforms that allowed banks such as Citi to grow so large in the first place. When lawmakers reformed depression era laws that stood in the way of these financial super-markets, they tended to sound libertarian notes about allowing financial innovation and the operation of the free market to control the size and scope of Wall Street firms. The era of government planning was over. So the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which had separated investment houses from commercial banks—most famously requiring JP Morgan to part from Morgan Stanley—was changed to permit the growth of the universal banks.
Many now think that the universal bank is a failed strategy. From Citi to Merrill to Bear Stearns, there are calls for Wall Street firms to slim down, break-up and concentrate on the core businesses that made them wealthy and famous to begin with. But was it a failure? If growing into financial giants allowed them to unilaterally acquire a secret—and nearly costless—government insurance policy, it seems like a great gamble. The executives and shareholders get the upside, while the broader public insures against failure.
“What a scam that is,” writes William Greider in The Nation.
And it’s a scam the Greider thinks is over. Banking regulation will inevitably make a big comeback, he predicts.
“At least the unambiguous truth about ‘financial modernization’ is now on the table for all to see,” he writes. “That should keep the Wall Street guys from whining for a while about the oppressive nature of bank regulation. The next reform era, when it does finally arrive, will head in the opposite direction--restoring public protections for the little guys against the greedy excesses of big hogs.”
What Greider doesn’t mention is that this era of new regulations might be coming too late. Or, rather, right on time, depending on your point of view. Resistance to a new wave of banking regulation requiring bank breakups and dividing Wall Street according to regulatory fiats rather than market demand is likely to be weak in an era when many think the financial supermarket model has failed and should be abandoned. No-one expends much time, money or energy defending a right to do something they don’t want to do anyway. What’s more, there will be plenty of money made by investment bankers spinning-off, selling and acquiring the fragments they are shoring up against the ruins of the toppled giants. Some of these people may actually be the same ones who made fortunes building the giants.
And we’ll all raise a glass to the only saloon in town where it’s never last call: the Wall Street punch bowl.
Citibank: Too Big to Fail? [The Nation]

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