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Barclays’ Bob Diamond to Non-Bankers: Drop Dead

Despite its artful packaging, Diamond’s presentation was yet another reminder of the banking industry’s continued extortion game, namely, that they can take outsized, leveraged risks and when they work out, pay themselves handsome rewards, and when they don’t, dump them on the taxpayer. And they’ve only been encouraged to up the ante. Not only did they get to keep their winnings from their last “wreck the economy” exercise, no senior executive was fired, no boards were replaced, and UBS was the only major bank required to give a detailed account of how its screwed up so badly as to need government support. And before you tell me Barclays was never bailed out, tell me exactly how well it would have fared had any other major UK or international bank failed, or had the officialdom not provided extraordinary liquidity support when interbank funding dried up. As we have noted often in the past, the very idea that employees of major banks are entitled to even as much as average wages is a stretch. If the true cost of their operations was priced in, they’d all be out of business. By any standards, they should be paying all the rest of us to be allowed to do so much damage with so little interference. Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England goes through the math. In a March 2010 paper, he compared the banking industry to the auto industry, in that they both produced pollutants: for cars, exhaust fumes; for bank, systemic risk. While economists were claiming that the losses to the US government on various rescues would be $100 billion (ahem, must have left out Freddie and Fannie in that tally), it ignores the broader costs (unemployment, business failures, reduced government services, particularly at the state and municipal level). His calculation of the world wide costs: ….these losses are multiples of the static costs, lying anywhere between one and five times annual GDP. Put in money terms, that is an output loss equivalent to between $60 trillion and $200 trillion for the world economy and between £1.8 trillion and £7.4 trillion for the UK. As Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman observed, to call these numbers “astronomical” would be to do astronomy a disservice: there are only hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy. “Economical” might be a better description. It is clear that banks would not have deep enough pockets to foot this bill. Assuming that a crisis occurs every 20 years, the systemic levy needed to recoup these crisis costs would be in excess of $1.5 trillion per year.

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