How About a Big ol’ Game of Monopoly?

monopoly-empty-pocketsIf we’re a ‘free market’ economy, why do we keep protecting so many businesses and promote monopoly? Well, I suppose the practical answer is that businesses who can afford to do so will rent-seek via K Street and politicians looking for donations will happily give them whatever they want. The bigger question is why do we keep politicians in office that DO this to us? Why do we put up with policy makers that continually keep corporations safe from the economic Darwinism implied by capitalism while we pay for all their negatives like externalities, restricted output, and high prices? Can we just say, for once, that the real welfare queens in the economy are the bonus class and these kinds of corporations? They suck up the public funds like a bunch of leeches at a Louisiana picnic. Today’s news just provides us this ongoing example from the banking industry. It’s from WaPo and David Cho. Go read Banks ‘Too Big to Fail’ Have Grown Even Bigger; Behemoths Born of the Bailout Reduce Consumer Choice, Tempt Corporate Moral Hazard for a really good example of market failure. It makes me want to socialize the lot of them! I mean, if we’re going to continually subsidize them and give them monopoly status, we might as well have a stake in their assets.

The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance. A series of federally arranged mergers safely landed troubled banks on the decks of more stable firms. And it allowed the survivors to emerge from the turmoil with strengthened market positions, giving them even greater control over consumer lending and more potential to profit.

J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street’s most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned Citigroup, now issue one of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards, federal data show.

A year after the near-collapse of the financial system last September, the federal response has redefined how Americans get mortgages, student loans and other kinds of credit and has made a national spectacle of executive pay. But no consequence of the crisis alarms top regulators more than having banks that were already too big to fail grow even larger and more interconnected.

“It is at the top of the list of things that need to be fixed,” said Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. “It fed the crisis, and it has gotten worse because of the crisis.”

I really hate going to the mail box these days. I am now banking with Capital One not by choice but by merger. I now have a trading account with J.P. Morgan, not by choice but by merger. My mortgage is miserably serviced by Wells Fargo, not by choice but by secondary market transaction. Each day, I find myself to be a customer of a behemoth bank with whom I would not choose to do business voluntarily. It takes me forever to get out of customer service automated voice response hell to try to figure out how to close my account so I can go elsewhere. An expedition to Patagonia would be easier.

“Be not afraid of greatness; some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them”

William Shakespeare.

“And some have greatness handed to them on a silver platter by their government”

Dakinikat.

If free market capitalism is all about consumer choice, then we do we keep getting less of it? Also, why is there this assumption that nearly every huge corporation will be bailed out by the taxpayers, but if just one of us needs help, say, after we’ve been laid off, or after we’ve had a major illness, or our spouses ran off with our money and their co-worker, we’re just plain shit out of luck? As David Cho writes, this is moral hazard run amok now because nearly every one corporation in this country just has to reach some golden mean size and they get an implied bail-out from the taxpayers. I just want to know what I have to do to get one of those too? Governor Jindal appears to be a lot more interested in beefing up his Republican creds these days than keeping me in a classroom and my home with what used to be decent benefits. Can I get one of those too big to fail deals too please?

The worry for consumers is that the bailouts skewed the financial industry in favor of the big and powerful. Fresh data from the FDIC show that big banks have the ability to borrow more cheaply than their peers because creditors assume these large companies are not at risk of failing. That imbalance could eventually squeeze out smaller competitors. Already, consumers are seeing fewer choices and higher prices for financial services, some senior government officials warn.

Those mergers were largely the government’s making. Regulators pushed failing mortgage lenders and Wall Street firms into the arms of even bigger banks and handed out billions of dollars to ensure that the deals would go through. They say they reluctantly arranged the marriages. Their aim was to dull the shock caused by collapses and prevent confidence in the U.S. financial system from crumbling.

Officials waived long-standing regulations to make the deals work. J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo were each allowed to hold more than 10 percent of the nation’s deposits despite a rule barring such a practice. In several metropolitan regions, these banks were permitted to take market share beyond what the Department of Justice’s antitrust guidelines typically allow, Federal Reserve documents show.

Ah, isn’t that special? Officials just waved off LONG STANDING REGULATIONS to make deals work. Did any one get any input on why we have those long standing regulations or say the Sherman Anti Trust Law besides the Treasury Department and the recipients of the waivers? If this is the workings of the free market, then call me Glenn Beck.

Federal officials and advocacy groups are just beginning to study the impact of the crisis on consumers, but there is some evidence that the mergers are creating new challenges for ordinary Americans.

In the last quarter, the top four banks raised fees related to deposits by an average of 8 percent, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Striving to stay competitive, smaller banks lowered their fees by an average of 12 percent.

“None of us are saying dismember these institutions. But you do want to create a system that allows for others to grow, where no one has an oligopolistic power at the expense of others who might be able to provide financial services to consumers,” said Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Normally, when faced with price increases, consumers simply switch. But industry officials said that is not so easy when it comes to financial services.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., Wells Fargo, Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase hold three-quarters of the deposit market. Each firm was given tens of billions of dollars in bailout funds to help it swallow other banks.

Don’t you wish you could get a deal like that instead of having to fund a deal like that? Like I said, if they’re going to use our money like we’re some kind of venture capitalists, then we should at least be getting a decent rate of return. But, the banker’s negotiated their own sweetheart deals on the loans, so dream on if you think we’re going to get our money back plus interest. The more I read about this, the more I want to nationalize all their ASSEtS! So today, color me a Leninist, Marxist, Red, a Commie or what ever term you want to use. It ain’t capitalism now, so we might as well just make it official and at least share the profits.

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