“Since Paul Volcker stood by Barack Obama a week ago as the US president unveiled banking reforms devised by ‘this tall guy’, the ‘Volcker rule’ has provoked angst on Wall Street and in Washington. Critics complain that it is a populist measure designed to distract attention from the Democrats’ political woes; that it is impractical; that it would put US banks at a disadvantage to European ones; that its target is wrong; and that it would let investment banks escape. Some of these objections, particularly the last, have weight, yet the Volcker rule – that deposit-taking banks would not be able to engage in proprietary trading, or to own hedge funds or private equity firms – is the first time any government has proposed a sensible structural remedy for the problems created by bailing out banks in 2008. For that reason, I welcome the conversion of the US president to splitting up banks rather than letting them remain too big to fail and relying on tough regulation, higher capital charges and mechanisms for winding them down if they get into trouble. For the first time, a government is directly attacking the size and complexity of over-mighty institutions.”
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