MIT's Johnson: Big Banks Fueling Financial Meltdown, the Sequel

Thursday, 25 Mar 2010 09:27 AM

By Dan Weil

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The too-big-to-fail mentality is so firmly entrenched that the financial system will face another crisis, says MIT economist Simon Johnson.

Johnson, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and former McKinsey consultant James Kwak argue in a new book that the big banks still hold all the cards.

Unless these monoliths, such as Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, are broken up, another crisis is coming, the authors argue.

“And when that crisis comes,” they say, “the government will face the same choice it faced in 2008: to bail out a banking system that has grown even larger and more concentrated, or to let it collapse and risk an economic disaster.”

The book is titled “13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown.”

The problem is not just economic, the authors point out. It’s political, too. The big banks have essentially bought the support of major politicians with campaign contributions.

Johnson and Kwak compare the situation to the late 19th century in this country and Russia of the 1990s. “Well-connected business leaders trade cash and political support for favors from the government,” they write.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke acknowledges that too big to fail remains a major problem.

"It is unconscionable that the fate of the world economy should be so closely tied to the fortunes of a relatively small number of giant financial firms," he said in a recent speech.

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