Scott Brown has a lot to answer for. His stunning Senate victory for the Republicans in Massachusetts sent the White House into a spin. President Obama promptly decided on the populist gesture of targeting Wall Street with vague proposals to outlaw banks’ risky activities and limit their size. Though seemingly hastily wheeled out, the ideas were first floated a few months ago by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, a man widely regarded as the best US central banker of the modern era. As a result they have some credibility, though they are far from being a panacea.
Many believe the banks have brought this on their own heads. The return of big bonuses so soon after a crisis of their own making, for which ordinary people will be paying for years, showed crass insensitivity and greed. America’s banks rushed to pay off their obligations to taxpayers under the Tarp (troubled asset relief programme) precisely so that they could get back on the bonus gravy train. The behaviour of the banks, however, is no excuse for flawed policy. Nobody yet knows the detail of Mr Obama’s plans, probably not even the president. But from what we know so far, they suffer from two serious shortcomings.
The first is that they would not have stopped the current crisis….