By Charles Reinhardt - Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 0 Comments
Neil Barofsky was the Special United States Treasury Department Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, the U.S. government’s $700bn program created in 2008 to shore up the U.S. financial system. He resigned in March 2011, criticizing “Treasury’s mismanagement of TARP and its disregard for TARP’s Main Street goals” in a scathing New York Times op-ed. He is the author of Bailout. How Washington abandoned Main Street while rescuing Wall Street. Today Barofsky is an adjunct professor and senior research fellow at the New York University School of Law.
Listen to Charles Reinhardt in conversation with Neil Barofsky:*
*Please note: Both the podcast and the interview transcript have been edited for brevity.
In an article for Bloomberg you wrote in July 2012 you pointed out that the top U.S. banks are 23 per cent larger today than before the crisis and control fifty two percent of all industry assets. Is the U.S. financial system more vulnerable than it was in 2007, and, if so, what went wrong in your view?
A lot of the things that were broken in our financial system, that helped create the massive financial crisis from which we’re still recovering, are still in place, and in some ways have actually gotten more severe. We had a problem with banks that were too big to fail, and as you just noted, they are even bigger now than they were. They had too much political power, too much regulatory influence over their own regulation back then, and I think what we’ve seen with recent events is that that power too has expanded along with its size.
We see a level of deference from Washington that really, fundamentally, hasn’t changed all that much. There’s maybe a difference in some of the public and political rhetoric, but when it gets down to brass tacks, the banks are still calling a lot of their own shots.
Now on the flip side, the banks themselves are in better shape, thanks to the multi-trillion dollar nature of the bailouts, than they were on the eve of the financial crisis. They’re still under-capitalized but they have more capital than they did then, they’re out of some of the more risky parts of their business, at least for now, and they’ve gone through at least some of those troubled assets, though not nearly enough. So in another aspect, they are in better shape than they were in 2008 going into the crisis, but overall our system and the structures of our system are still very very vulnerable to a systemic shock and another financial crisis, and I think because they’re larger, and because the United States has used up so much of its fiscal gunpowder dealing with the past crisis and trying to pay for the recovery, we’ll have a lot fewer options when that next crisis strikes.