It was just a couple of years ago. The housing market wasn’t doing so hot, and these things called derivatives were supposedly making things very difficult for the banks. President Bush stood behind a podium and addressed the American people. He told us that the government needed to buy these derivatives because it would help the banks, and then when the value went up, the government could sell them. It sounded fine.
What we got was something else entirely as various banks began to fail. Then auto companies were barely limping. There was panic in Washington, and they said we simply had to do something. But did we?
Economic matters are always tricky, and there’s always another point of view that will disagree with whatever you think. However, the biggest mistake we made was believing in the idea of “to big to fail”.
Take a hypothetical bank called Bank of Tom (BoT). BoT starts out as a small community bank, but grows and grows. Thanks to government assistance, it becomes one of the largest banks in the United States. It buys up smaller competitors with loans from the government, as well as lobbies Congress for laws that are favorable to it while hurting smaller competitors. It’s massive, employing thousands and controlling a huge part of the market.
Then the economy goes to crap and BoT is in serious trouble. If it’s going to stay, it needs help from the government. This is where we found ourselves just a couple of years ago. We already know what can happen if BoT gets the help. The economy stagnates for at least a couple of years and the company continues doing business as it always had, confident that they’re “to big to fail”. But what if we had taken the other road? What if BoT had been allowed to fail?