A Thought on a Thought on Bank Reserves

Neel Kashkari, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and active member of the Federal Open Market Committee, had the thought that’s the object of my thought in a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

…increase capital requirements on the biggest banks—those with assets over $250 billion—to at least 23.5%. It would reduce the risk of a taxpayer bailout to less than 10% over the next century.

No.  Have the banks publish their reserve holdings and the total of the loans outstanding in their portfolio together with the per centages of the latter that are current, late, or in default.  Let each bank’s creditors—depositors and other lenders—and investors make their own assessments of the bank’s viability.  Government need not be involved.

Beyond that, we have a bankruptcy court system that’s entirely adequate to the problem; there’s no need to excuse banks from the system.  Moreover, by doing this much, we would eliminate the too-big-to-fail monstrosity of Dodd-Frank, and we would reduce the risk of a taxpayer bailout by far more than Kashkari’s timid 10%: that risk would be reduced by 100%.

Beyonder than that, we have this seeming conflict.  Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan recently asked,

Do we have [to hold] an extra $20 billion in capital? Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s $200 billion in loans we could make.

To which Kashkari quite legitimately replied,

Borrowing costs for homeowners and businesses are near record lows. If loans were scarce, borrowers would be competing for them, driving up costs. That isn’t happening.

However, leaving aside the regulatory state that’s holding back our economy and with that depressing demand for big ticket items and so demand for loans (and interfering with the process of loan making, as described by Kashkari in his piece), the loan rates/demands vs freeing up those loanable funds is a chicken and egg thing.

I vote for the egg: free up those restricted funds in the private sector instead of freeing up funds via the Federal printing press.

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