It's Time for a Supertax on Big Bank Bonuses
January 11, 2010

The big banks are pre-testing their main messages for bonus season, which starts in earnest next week. Their payouts relative to profits will be “record lows,” their people won’t make as much as in 2007 (except for Goldman), and they will pay a higher proportion of the bonus in stock than usual.  Behind the scenes, leading executives are still arguing out the details of the optics. As they justify their pay packages, the bankers open up a broader relevant question: How much bonus do they deserve in this situation? After all, bonus time is when you decide who made what kind of relative contrib

How Should Goldman Sachs Cover its Ass This Bonus Season?
January 08, 2010

Sources say that Goldman Sachs’s bonuses will be announced on Monday, January 18, and actually paid sometime between February 4 and February 7. In previous years, the bonuses were paid in early January--but the financial year shifted when Goldman became a bank holding company. For critics of the company and its fellow travelers, the timing could not be better. Anxiety levels about the financial sector are on the increase, even on Capitol Hill. The tension between high profits in banking and stress in the rest of the economy becomes increasingly a topic of discussion across the nation. And you

Bernanke Comments on the "Doom Loop." But Does He Get It?
December 22, 2009

Senator David Vitter submitted one of my questions to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, as part of his reconfirmation hearings, and received the following reply in writing (as already published in the WSJ online): Q. Simon Johnson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and blogger: Andrew Haldane, head of financial stability at the Bank of England, argues that the relationship between the banking system and the government (in the U.K.

Did Those Bank CEOs Deliberately Skip Out on Obama?
December 21, 2009

The fundamental divide in opinion regarding our financial system is: Are the people running "large integrated financial groups" hapless fools, buffeted by forces beyond their comprehension and control; or do they know exactly how to ensure they get the upside and the awful, sickening downside is borne by society--including through high unemployment? Some light was shed on this issue by Monday’s meeting at the White House or, more specifically, by who didn’t turn up and why.

Is History on Paul Volcker's Side?
December 15, 2009

The guiding myth underpinning the reconstruction of our dangerous banking system is: Financial innovation as we know it is valuable and must be preserved. Anyone opposed to this approach is a populist, with or without a pitchfork.Single-handedly, Pau

"Large Integrated Financial Groups": Can't Live Without 'Em?
December 08, 2009

Increasingly, leading bankers repeat versions of the argument made recently by E. Gerald Corrigan in his Dolan Lecture at Fairfield University. Corrigan, former President of the New York Fed and a senior executive at Goldman Sachs for more than a decade, makes three main points. (1) “Large Integrated Financial Groups”--at or around their current size--offer unique functions that cannot otherwise be provided.

Feudal Lords of Finance
December 01, 2009

In some influential circles, these questions are now asked: What’s wrong with high levels of inequality in general, and with having very rich bankers in particular? After all, human societies have survived the presence of extremely wealthy individuals in the past--in fact, some now argue, the presence of such a “new aristocracy” can finance growth and spur innovation. This argument is deeply flawed along three dimensions. (1) Such super-elites care very little for anyone other than themselves. Certainly, there will be some charity--but remember that John D.

Will Increased Capital Requirements Kill a Recovery? Morgan Stanley Wants You to Think So.
November 25, 2009

Just when momentum was starting to build for increased capital requirements as the core element of an approach that will reign in reckless risk-taking, Morgan Stanley effectively demolishes the idea. In “Banking – Large & Midcap Banks: Bid for Growth Caps Capital Ask,” (no public link available) Betsy Graseck, Ken Zorbo, Justin Kwon, and John Dunn of Morgan Stanley Research North America dissect the coming demands for more bank capital.  “In short, we think the demand for growth and access to credit will trump desire for unprofitable capital levels… For the large cap and midcap banks, we

Why Banks Shouldn't Control Clearinghouses
November 25, 2009

In my post yesterday about derivatives, I mentioned the importance of "clearing," which would help sever the interconnections between firms on either side of a derivatives trade. (The interconnections are what can put the whole financial system at risk when one firm, like Lehman, runs into trouble.) But one of the problems with clearing is that it requires clearinghouses, which are privately-owned entities that end up with a lot of power to influence the way derivatives get regulated.

America's Economic "Doom Loop"
November 17, 2009

“Banking on the State” by Andrew Haldane and Piergiorgio Alessandri is making waves in official circles. Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, is widely regarded as both a technical expert and as someone who can communicate his points effectively to policymakers. He is obviously closely in line--although not in complete agreement--with the thinking of Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England. Haldane and Alessandri offer a tough, perhaps bleak assessment.