Good public policy and good management don't always align. And the banking crisis is a good example. We now hear "Banks must raise $75billion" if they are to be prepared for ongoing write-downs in a struggling economy. This is after all the billions already loaned to keep them afloat the last year.
But the bankers are claiming they will have no problem raising this money as reported in "The rush to raise Capital." "AIG narrows loss" tells how one of the primary contributors to the banking crisis now thinks it will survive. And as a result of this news, "Bank shares largely higher" is another headline reporting how financial stocks surged today post-announcements.
So regulators are feeling better. They won't have to pony up as much money as they might have. And politicians feel better, hoping that the bank crisis is over. And a lot of businesses feel better, hearing that the banks which they've long worked with, and are important to their operations, won't be going under. Generally, this is all considered good news. Especially for those worried about how a soft economy was teetering on the brink of getting even worse.
But the problem is we've just extended the life of some pretty seriously ill patients that will probably continue their bad practices. The bail out probably saved America, and the world, from an economic calamity that would have pushed millions more into unemployment and exacerbated falling asset values. A global "Great Depression II" would have plunged millions of working poor into horrible circumstances, and dramatically damaged the ability of many blue and white collar workers in developed countries to maintain their homes. It would have been a calamity.
But this all happened because of bad practices on the part of most of these financial institutions. They pushed their Success Formulas beyond their capabilities, causing failure. Only because of the bailout were these organizations, and their unhealthy Success Formulas saved. And that sows the seeds of the next problem. In evolution, when your Success Formula fails due to an environomental shift you are wiped out. To be replaced by a stronger, more adaptable and better suited competitor. Thus, evolution allows those who are best suited to thrive while weeding out the less well suited. But, the bailout just kept a set of very weak competitors alive – disallowing a change to stronger and better competitors.
These bailed out banks will continue forward mostly as they behaved in the past. And thus we can expect them to continue to do poorly at servicing "main street" while trying to create risk pass through products that largely create fees rather than economic growth. These banks that led the economic plunge are now repositioned to be ongoing leaders. Which almost assures a continuing weak economy. Newly "saved" from failure, they will Defend & Extend their old Success Formula in the name of "conservative management" when in fact they will perpetuate the behavior that put money into the wrong places and kept money from where it would be most productive.
Free market economists have long discussed how markets have no "brakes". They move to excess before violently reacting. Like a swing that goes all one direction until violently turning the opposite direction. Leaving those at the top and bottom with very upset stomachs and dramatic vertigo. The only way to avert the excessive tops is market intervention – which is what the government bail-out was. It intervened in a process that would have wiped out most of the largest U.S. banks. But, in the wake of that intervention we're left with, well, those same U.S. banks. And mostly the same leaders.
What's needed now are Disruptions inside these banks which will force a change in their Success Formula. This includes leadership changes, like the ousting of Bank of America's Chairman/CEO. But it takes more than changing one man, and more than one bank. It takes Disruption across the industry which will force it to change. Force it to open White Space in which it redefines the Success Formula to meet the needs of a shifted market – which almost pushed them over the edge – before those same shifts do crush the banks and the economy.
And that is now going to be up to the regulators. The poor Secretary of Treasury is already eyeball deep in complaints about his policies and practices. I'm sure he'd love to stand back and avoid more controversy. But, unless the regulatory apparatus now pushes those leading these banks to behave differently, to Disrupt and implement White Space to redefine their value for a changed marketplace, we can expect a protracted period of bickering and very weak returns for these banks. We can expect them to walk a line of ups and downs, but with returns that overall are neutral to declining. And that they will stand in the way of newer competitors who have a better approach to global banking from taking the lead.
So, if you didn't like government intervention to save the banks – you're really going to hate the government intervention intended to change how they operate. If you are glad the government intervened, then you'll find yourself arguing about why the regulators are just doing what they must do in order to get the banks, and the economy, operating the way it needs to in a shifted, information age.