By David Stockman
Make no mistake. The banking system has become an agent of destruction for the gross domestic product and of impoverishment for the middle class. To be sure, it was lured into these unsavory missions by a truly insane monetary policy under which, most recently, the Federal Reserve purchased $1.5 trillion of longer-dated Treasury bonds and housing agency securities in less than a year. It was an unprecedented exercise in market-rigging with printing-press money, and it gave a sharp boost to the price of bonds and other securities held by banks, permitting them to book huge revenues from trading and bookkeeping gains.
Meanwhile, by fixing short-term interest rates at near zero, the Fed planted its heavy boot squarely in the face of depositors, as it shrank the banks’ cost of production — their interest expense on depositor funds — to the vanishing point.
The resulting ultrasteep yield curve for banks is heralded, by a certain breed of Wall Street tout, as a financial miracle cure. Soon, it is claimed, a prodigious upwelling of profitability will repair bank balance sheets and bury toxic waste from the last bubble’s collapse. But will it?
In supplying the banks with free deposit money (effectively, zero-interest loans), the savers of America are taking a $250 billion annual haircut in lost interest income. And the banks, after reaping this ill-deserved windfall, are pleased to pronounce themselves solvent, ignoring the bad loans still on their books. This kind of Robin Hood redistribution in reverse is not sustainable. It requires permanently flooding world markets with cheap dollars — a recipe for the next bubble and financial crisis.
Moreover, rescuing the banks yet again, this time with a steeply sloped yield curve (that is, cheap short-term money and more expensive long-term rates), is not even a proper monetary policy action. It is a vast and capricious reallocation of national income, which would be hooted down in the halls of Congress, were it properly brought to a vote.
The baleful reality is that the big banks, the freakish offspring of the Fed’s easy money, are dangerous institutions, deeply embedded in a bull market culture of entitlement and greed. This is why the Obama tax is welcome: its underlying policy message is that big banking must get smaller because it does too little that is useful, productive or efficient.
Make sure to follow the link back to the NYT on this one; it's an exceptional piece.