Federal Government Should Stop Subsidizing Wall Street
Thomas M. Hoenig is vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Imagine if the United States had an airline industry in which the biggest carriers that fly both domestically and internationally received a larger government fuel subsidy than those flying only domestic routes. Unfair? Yes — and that’s exactly how the U.S. financial system works.
The fuel of the largest firms in our financial services industry is subsidized, and the public bears the cost.
Financial firms can borrow money — their equivalent of fuel — more cheaply and with less market scrutiny when they have access to government guarantees of deposit insurance, loans from the Federal Reserve and, ultimately, taxpayer support such as we saw with the Troubled Assets Relief Program in 2008. This safety net was intended to stabilize the financial system by protecting the payments system that transfers money around the country and the world as well as the essential lending that commercial banks provide. But these protections also assure those who lend to banks that they will be repaid regardless of the condition of the bank. Under such circumstances, creditors give the firms a discount on the cost of the funds they borrow.
Things are made more difficult by the fact that the largest financial companies now combine traditional commercial banking with higher-risk activities such as trading so that both their banking and betting activities get access to these government protections and the multibillion-dollar subsidy that comes with them. Using subsidized money to finance the conglomerates’ bets encourages ever-higher levels of debt, risk and interconnectedness not attainable or sustainable in a truly free market.