Simon Johnson On Where The TBTF Cutoff Line Is And Other Observations On Dodd-Frank's One Year Birthday

Tyler Durden's picture

MIT's Simon Johnson, an outspoken critic of the risks of the Too Big To Fail, aka Global Bernanke Put, doctrine sat down with Bloomberg's Tom Keene to discuss the changes (just kidding) to the financial system on the one year anniversary of the worst legislation to pass Congress since the repeal of Glass-Steagall.

Q: Where are we with Dodd-Frank one year on? Are we still in a framework of bank consolidation?

A: We’re in a framework where the biggest banks, JPMorgan, Citi, Bank of America are too big to fail. You can’t handle them within the existing resolution framework. Maybe we’ve made some progress on the medium-sized guys, the medium to big. But the mega-banks, cross border, we can’t doanything about them when they go down.

Q: The banks are clearly fighting back to stay big. Is there something you’re looking for in the next six months to change the dialogue of too-big-to-fail?

A: Well, there is a dialogue. It’s with the FDIC around this so-called Title I of Dodd- Frank, which is the living will provision. And the FDIC could decide that some big banks need to simplify and slim down. We will see whether they can do that, whether they have the political backing to do it. I’m encouraging them. I’m fairly discouraged myself.

Q: Where do you draw the line between too big to fail and not too big to fail?

A: That’s a great question. CIT Group, which is the largest institution we let fail since the class of Lehman and since those really crazy days of before 2008. That was about an $80 billion bank in terms of assets, 8-0. Goldman Sachs fluctuates between $800 billion and $1 trillion. And I don’t think we’d let Goldman Sachs fail. So somewhere between $80 and $800 billion. Where exactly is that line? Great question. I hope we don’t have to find out. But we should know and we should know how to handle it.

Q: CIT wasn’t exactly a bank. It was a finance company.

A: It wasn’t exactly. You’re absolutely right. But, it did have a lot of banking type activities and it did argue very strongly that it needed a bailout, said it was systemic and there were people within the administration who actually wanted to help them out and other people like Sheila Bair decided ‘no, we don’t want to do that’ and they let them go and that was a good call.

Q: Well, another angle is the biggest company that got bailed out was an insurance company, AIG.

A: Absolutely. I’m not of the opinion that too big to fail is limited to banks, and that’s maybe a nice segue to Europe because look at where their implications are there. It includes insurance.

Q: The research we’ve seen is unlike with AIG, Europe is much more about bonds, solvency and the sovereign debt versus the credit default swaps. Do you buy that?

A: I’m not sure. I mean the European officials are so nervous about the CDS and they seem to be working hard to make sure it’s not a credit event from a CDS contract point of view. I wonder why they’re doing that. I know what you know on this, or maybe or less. I hope it’s not a CDS story.

Q: Where are we in terms of the unintended consequences or the surprise, the exogenous shock that can hit a system?

A: It’s going to stay ugly until the Europeans really come up with a definitive solution. It’s all about the spillovers and the unintended consequences of what they are doing and what they’re signaling about Greece. Unless they go back to a regime where they provide unconditional bailout, meaning complete credit protection to Greece, then people are going to say, ah, Greece take some losses therefore on XYZ country, which includes Italy at this point. We may have some probability of a loss and we need a higher interest rate to compensate from that and maybe this is not a riskless bond, anyways it’s clearly not a riskless bond anymore. But what is it? Where should it trade? Is it how close are we to some sort of emerging market situation?

Q: When you look at the ability to measure risk, there seems to be a great distinction between the European banking system and the U.S. Is it cultural? Is it legal? Why are they taking so long to get this cleared out?

A: I don’t think they have enough capital, in the first instance. They had less capital. They had more leverage, as you know they didn’t have an effective leverage cap. And of course, they had a very low risk rate, maybe near zero risk  rate on holding bonds from their own governments.

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Popo's picture

Uh... who is this "we" he speaks of when he says "I don't think 'we' would let Goldman fail"?

I for one would certainly allow GS to fail, as would just about every reader here.  So when he says "we", he must be speaking as a member of the class that protects banks at the expense of the public.

*WE* the *PEOPLE*  would certainly let Goldman fail.

*WE* would make sure that shareholders were wiped out,  executives charged with criminal acts,  and assets liquidated to pay for the mess.

lizzy36's picture

"We" the people vote for the politicians.

So if the politicians are not reflecting "we" the people, then perhaps it is time to fire them.

However, "WE" the people should probably understand that the $3B the presidential election is expected to cost the candidates, comes with a massive amount of quid pro quo. It is the latter, that buys a donor/sponsor the "we" in the "we the people" phrase that American politicians are so fond of tossing around.


SheepDog-One's picture

Problem is, about 75% at least of 'We the People' are like Peggy Joseph and look at politicians as Messiahs that will pay for their gas, food, and mortgage. Really we're all  just under total communism at this point.

ptoemmes's picture

Out of the mouths of...comedians:


I wanted to punch Sean Parnell  (of the Center for Competitive Politics).



magis00's picture

Denial ain't just a river in Egypt ?

QQQBall's picture

"We" are called upon to absorb the losses. "They" collect the profits. Any more questions? 


Woodyg's picture

I think they call that Moral Hazard - except predator capitalists have no morals - they are Savvy Businessmen!

SheepDog-One's picture

I believe I recall at the time about 90% of the american people said 'let them fail, screw bailouts'!

Jeff Lebowski's picture

I'm getting tired of watching the can getting kicked down the road to delay the inevitable.  With every day I question if I'm wrong and crazy with what I see - price of food up 50% or greater at the local stores, unemployed friends buying ipads and iphones, pre-foreclosures in the neighborhood with new cars...

Let's get on with the fucking crash already so we can rebuild this country...

Oh regional Indian's picture

CIT wasn't a bank, exactly. GS was not a bank, exactly that is.

There you have the nub of the issue. If you can morph with insider blessings to whatever "works", TBTF becomes a moot issue.

It's the characters that need attention paid to, not the institutions.


imaginalis's picture

It's the characters that need attention paid to, not the institutions.


Perhaps its the scriptwriters that need attention paid to, not the characters.

SheepDog-One's picture

Exactly, constantly changing entities ensures 'TBTF' a constantly available escape portal like a Star Trek transporter. Beam me up Scotty.

Weisbrot's picture


Corrupt legislation by

Corrupt legislators


Glass Steagall - should never have been repealed

Bumbama Care needs to be repealed


Corruption has become common

we have a very common government





Sudden Debt's picture

Maybe they are all still big and even bigger but they did fire tens of thousands of people and replaced them with software to "cut costs" and pay for the rest of their mishaps...

snowball777's picture

to "cut costs" and cause the rest of their mishaps...



apberusdisvet's picture

Simon is a Keynesian former IMF'r who, surprisingly, was one of the first to rail against TBTF, but he gets no love in DC from the captured pols;  just another pissing in the wind.

FEDbuster's picture

"You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before."
Rahm Emanuel

The consolidation of power in the biggest banks was never as large and fast as it was in 2008-2009.  What started as stupidity and greed in the mortgage securitization business, became an "Inside Job" as soon as they figured out how much power and money could be made from it.  The question now is will the top six banks be able to digest all the toxic crap they swallowed?

Version 7's picture

The FED is the cartel of the biggest banks. Stockholder company. The remaining hundreds of small guys do what they are told for the sake of the 'too big to fail' ones.

packman's picture

LOL at the thought that there's a "line" somewhere.  Sorry but it doesn't work that way.  It's all about relationships.


SoNH80's picture

Precisely.  Here's some guidance.  Positive correlates w/TBTF: Asset size over $250 billion; New York headquarters; Treasury primary dealer status; um, lots of "Lobbyists" and "Beanie Patrol" folks on the board.  Negative correlates w/ TBTF:  Asset size below $250 billion; Heartland city headquarters; lots of Anglo-Saxons on the board....

ZackAttack's picture

Bank, brokerage or insurer... Choose one.

jkruffin's picture

Greatest post I have ever seen on Yahoo boards.


Remember that black chick from Nawlins' during election?


She said Obama was gonna buy her gas, and pay her mortgage, and guess what, she was RIGHT!!!!! Everyone was laughing at this chick, and I bet her whole house is     paid for with Benny Bucks now and recorded as an asset at the Fed Reserve.

Who woulda thunk it? Only in America!!!!! Don't you people think it's about time we stop the corruption and greed????

Founders Keeper's picture

[Don't you people think it's about time we stop the corruption and greed????]---jkruffin

Hi jkruffin.

Yes, I'm as sick of the corruption, greed, deception, etc. as you are. And growing impatient for resolution.

I believe, however, a corrupt system must collapse unto itself---under its own weight---when it's ready. At least at the beginning stages.

If a "hero" steps in and initiates the "correction" of this corruption we risk several important dangers.

First, the market/economy collapses---as it should and eventually will anyway.

Second, our "hero" gets blamed for the collapse instead of the real perpetrators (the Fed, TBTF, Wall St, Treasury, fiat currency, DC politicians, etc.) 

Third, as a result of number two, the real causes of the collapse will not be identified and addressed.

Yes, email and/or call your congressman. Yes, vote on election day. Yes, prepare your family for the worst possible outcome. By all means take action you feel will make a difference.

You can send out the entire US Navy to stop a hurricane, but it won't make a bit of difference. Better to prepare for land fall.

The aftermath is when you can affect real changes and make a difference for you and your children and your children's children.


SheepDog-One's picture

Oh so really our only problem is banks maybe need a little Jenny Craig and get out for a walk once in a while...what total horse shit. This problem is morbid obesity in the banks and Wall St.

Lazane's picture

the banksters eventually get their way, Robert Rubin 2 term treasury secretary under the lying King, was getting under the fur of the King daily to repeal glass steagall, it just had to be one of the last details before leaving the oval lare, that gets not a wisp of coverage. as  digestion goes, no way to digest a lethal dose, it is only a matter of time before the patient expires.

snowball777's picture

You sure Phil "TurtleBoy" Gramm didn't have something to do with it?

gwar5's picture

Exactly right about Rubin.

He jumped immediately from Treasury to CITI (raising eyebrows) right after the repeal of Glass-Steagall to cash in on it.  And CITI turned into the most insolvent bank.  Other banks were forced to take TARP $$ they didn't need just to hide and obfuscate CITI's insolvency and prevent a bank run on them.

Where are they now? Robert Rubin is now co-Chairman of the Counsel of Foreign Relations and has rockstar status at the Bilderberg meetings. How else do you reward a guy for little "mistakes" when they already have everything?

He also crushed the CFTC as Treas Sec and kept it from preventing the LTCM collapse, setting us up for more of same to this day. The former head of CFTC was shamelessly run out of town by Rubin, Summers, and Greenspan. The CFTC is still scared shitless and won't do their job. 

SheepDog-One's picture

So theres a 'money line' somehwere over $80 billion if youre a bank or do some 'banking-style activities' or can BECOME a bank overnite, OR if youre an insurance company....then you cant fail and get regenerated when you die. Oh I see. 

island's picture

History will label this the Klepto Era - an era of massive corruption, grift-n-graft, a very limited and "captured" press, and the biggest stealth transfer of wealth from Main St. to the uber-rich.

It is really quite amazing how many dumbed-down Americans don't have any idea what is going on.

stiler's picture

when you say you want your country back, just what is it that you want to set it back to? To pre-2008? pre-WWII? or to pre-big business ca. mid 1800s? or to the Revolution 1773? Ther's no going back. No, we're going forward .

You know, I really hate being a doomsayer.

SheepDog-One's picture

Im hoping some big unforeseen event happens and screws up all their plans! I hope 'The Destroyer' really is on its way! Enough of this elite BS illusion, hell 400 families control the world! WTF is this shit anyway?

Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez's picture

Yes, there is a power even greater than these demon 400 families!


Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez

SheepDog-One's picture

You notice how it gets VERY quiet in times like these, we're at the end of the line, out of money, everyone waiting for the magical foregone conclusion we just pile on more debt, and free market money, so the broken machine can just keep chugging along for more days. No details of any plan just fluff, and dead quiet news. 

FEDbuster's picture
  1. Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death.
  2. Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame?"
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy.
  3. Bargaining — "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time..."
  4. Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "I miss my loved one, why go on?"
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
  5. Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
    In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with her/his mortality or that of a loved one.
SheepDog-One's picture

And the markets are now chuggin on upwards, due to 'lack of news', HOORAY!

victor82's picture

You forgot the answer of the Stupid Party:

8. "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's elect Mitt Romney. He's got a good head for business head and he had that really great track record at Bain Capital!"


By the way, there's no /sarc tag here because I read Republicans who post shit like what I posted above all the fucking time. I'm dead serious.

FEDbuster's picture

It's nice to see someone who clings to the two party, left-right viewpoint, it reminds me of simpler times like high school. "Your team sucks, we are the best."

I posted the five stages to get some feedback on which stage Zerohedgers think the Country is at in the process of accepting the death of the USA as a superpower?

madmax1965's picture

The people I see appear to be still in denial.  I have given up trying to educate these morons.  If you bring up the FED etc., you tend to get a blank stare while they contemplate what reality show they will watch on TV that night.  WTF?

Version 7's picture

We're just waiting for an event of some sort to come from somewhere and trigger the domino.

narnia's picture

if the intent was to use the force of government to limit the size of banks, why not just dramatically raise the FDIC insurance rate incrementally for banks over a certain asset level?  adding a $1 million+ regulatory compliance burden to the back of a strong regioinal bank or other TBTF incentivizes consolidation, not the opposite stated goal.

Thisson's picture

The FDIC insurance prevents bank runs.  This is a bad thing, as bankers' impulses to lend recklessly is not curbed by fear of a bank run.  We should abolish the FDIC completely, which will prevent any of these banks from getting too big (because they won't be able to grow rampantly by making stupid loans to anyone with a pulse).

El Viejo's picture

If the ECB revs up the printing press and Bernanke doesn't does that mean dollar - euro parity?

gwar5's picture

The TBTF members of the FRBNY will always be too big to die. That's how they are defined.

bankruptcylawyer's picture

aig is supposedly being 'wound down' , it won't happen. the financial products division encapsulates how the u.s. financial system has become deeply corrupted by the use of derivatives and cdos' to oversell to STUFF, debt through brokers to savers. 

the ultimate unwind is not  a bank busting, but the fall in purchasing power of the 290million americans (95+% of the population) that will result from the rampant money printing and selling of treasuries purchased by the federal reserve ( that prints money out of thin air to buy these treasuries from the treasury) order to delay the banks from defaulting. 

Woodyg's picture

2008 = 44 BC. The end of republic and codification of Empire.