Folklore is riddled with tales of a lone actor undoing a titan: David and Goliath; Heracles and Atlas; Jack and the Beanstalk, to name a few. Financial institutions seen as too important to fail have become even larger and more complex since the global crisis. We need look no further than the example of investment bank Lehman Brothers to understand how one financial institution’s failure can threaten the global financial system and create devastating effects to economies around the world. We’ve been looking at how to fix the too important to fail problem, and favor market based measures to help reduce the likelihood and impact of a failure. Global regulators have come up with a new set of tighter rules for all banks, known as Basel III, as a starting point to make the system less risky and address a number of regulatory issues. Implementation may take several years, however, while systemic institutions continue to grow in size and complexity, and may resume their risky practices. So in the interim, we’d like to see rapid, credible, and visible actions.
When the global financial system was thrown into crisis, many policymakers were shocked to discover a gaping hole in their policy toolkit. They have since made significant progress in developing macroprudential policy measures aimed at containing system-wide risks in the financial sector. Yet progress has been uneven. Greater efforts are needed to transform this policy patchwork into an effective crisis prevention toolkit. Given the enormous economic and human cost of the recent financial debacle, we cannot afford to miss this opportunity for substantial reform. We need further collective efforts to fill the policy black hole. It is our best chance of avoiding future crises.
Over the past two years, disruptive failures, shotgun marriages, and government bailouts of some household names in the financial industry have placed the age-old issue of “too big to fail” at the center of financial sector policy discussions.