Cato — Arnold Kling: Break up the banks

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In National Review online and at Cato, Arnold Kling writes about the JP Morgan fiasco and the predictable power grab now playing out in Washington. There is a great deal here with which to agree, but Kling also writes:

… writing in National Review two years ago, I proposed breaking up the big banks. J. P. Morgan’s announced loss serves to reinforce my view. …  we should seek limits on the asset size of individual banks. J. P. Morgan today is about ten times as large as any bank ought to be.

Arnold, you know better than that! The fact that government regulation and support allowed and encouraged banks to supersize themselves is merely an argument for getting the government out of the picture. It is not an argument that the government should interfere even more.

Leaving aside your common garden-variety thug, the root of all evil is the idea that some people are qualified to run other people’s lives and property, better qualified than the owners of those lives and property, and that these better-qualified people are somehow entitled to act on that belief. I would even argue that hubris is the worst of the seven deadly sins.

Where did your 10x come from? If JP Morgan shrank to 9.9x its current size, would you be happy? Or would you insist on 9x? Or maybe 5x? If you mean your proposal to be taken seriously, these silly questions become serious questions, because your bureaucracy will either have to decide according to bright-line criteria or decide on the basis of friendship and favors. (Any bets about how that would play out?)

How big is too big? Who decides? By what criteria? And having demonstrated his Delphic wisdom, how does our philosopher king derive the right to compel compliance?

Think about it.

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