Too Big to Fail: Big Banks Get Bigger and the Urge to Bust Them Up is Dying

Like most industries facing a crisis, the country’s biggest banks – JPMorgan (JPM), Bank of America (BAC), Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) – very likely got some great advice early on: this, too, shall pass.

Regulators and legislators and presidents just don’t have the attention spans to battle giant industries with deep pockets. We hold some hearings, wring our hands, pass some legislation (after we let it be watered down), and then we want to move on. The affected industry just hangs tough, battling every little effort to fence it in.

Which is why the biggest banks collectively got bigger through the crisis. If you can’t liquidate a $1 trillion bank, how’re you going to liquidate a $2 trillion bank? Or two of them?

JPM Total Assets Chart

JPM Total Assets data by YCharts

Unless Richard Fisher, the Dallas Fed CEO, gets crowned king, we can expect any effort to curb the size of the biggest banks to die out. Just don’t blame the mainstream media on this one. Several forests have fallen to print endless and thoughtful newspaper and magazine investigations and publish a shelf full of superb books on the topic. See “Too Big to Fail,” “All the Devils Are Here” and “Reckless Endangerment” for a high-quality sampler.

Reporters haven’t given up, either. PBS’s Frontline just aired this first-rate series on the topic.

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