Kenneth Rogoff warns us not to believe those who argue that the crisis was largely due to government failure, and hence that regulating the financial sector is counterproductive and unnecessary:
Why we need to regulate the banks sooner, not later, by Kenneth Rogoff, Commentary, Financial Times: When in doubt, bail it out,” is the policy mantra ... after the ... collapse of Lehman Brothers. With the global economy tentatively emerging from recession, and investors salivating over the remaining banks’ apparent return to significant profitability, some are beginning to ask: “Did we really need to suffer so much?”
Too many policymakers, investors and economists have concluded that US authorities could have engineered a smooth exit from the bubble economy if only Lehman had been bailed out. Too many now believe that any move towards greater financial regulation should be sharply circumscribed since it was the government that dropped the ball. Stifling financial innovation will only slow growth, with little benefit in terms of stemming future crises...
Certainly the US and global economy were already severely stressed at the time of Lehman’s fall, but better tactical operations by the Federal Reserve and Treasury, especially in backstopping Lehman’s derivative book, might have stemmed the panic. Indeed, with hindsight it is easy to say the authorities should have acted months earlier to force banks to raise more equity capital. The March 2008 collapse of the fifth largest investment bank, Bear Stearns, should have been an indication that urgent action was needed. Fed and Treasury officials argue that before Lehman, stronger measures were politically impossible. There had to be blood on the street to convince Congress. ...
[C]ommon sense dictates the need for stricter controls on short-term borrowing by systemically important institutions, as well as regularly monitored limits on oversized risk positions, taking into account that markets can be highly correlated in a downturn. ... There should also be more international co-ordination of financial supervision, to prevent countries using soft regulation to bid for business and to insulate regulators from political pressures.
...The view that everything would be fine if Hank Paulson, then US Treasury secretary, had simply underwritten a $50bn bail-out of Lehman is dangerously misguided. The financial system still needs fundamental reform...
I think that even if Lehman had been bailed out the economy would still have been bad, just not as bad, so either way there are substantial economic costs and a case for regulation.
This article has been republished from Mark Thoma's blog, Economist's View.
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