Speaking from the Milken Institute’s Global Conference, Citadel’s CEO Ken Griffin said that it is his “fantasy” to break up big banks, echoing similar statements by US President Donald Trump. In an interview with Bloomberg TV, the hedge fund manager explained that since an overly concentrated market reduces competition, it is a disservice to a free economy. Griffin furthermore elaborated that he is in favor of separating the investment banks from the commercial banks, for a new Glass-Steagall Act, instead of simply breaking the big banks into “many, many small banks”.
Echoing one of his 2016 campaign suggestions, earlier on Monday president Trump also told Bloomberg that he is considering breaking up the country’s biggest banks. Later that day, White House press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed to journalists that the Trump administration was looking into introducing “a 21st century Glass-Steagall”.
A move to reintroduce Glass-Steagall enjoys broad bipartisan support, including from Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic advisor and director of the National Economic Council, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senators Elizabeth Warren, John McCain. Senators Warren, McCain, Cantwell and King in fact introduced the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act” on April 6th in order to “to reduce risks to the financial system”. The bill would take on “too big to fail”, the idea that the biggest banks are so critical for the US economy that their failure would be crippling, having a disastrous ripple effect in the economy, so the government should bail them out if their stability is threatened. This is precisely what Ken Griffin was lamenting about at the Global Conference on May 1.
Passed in Congress in 1933, the Banking Act, also known as Glass-Steagall, was an emergency response to the failure of about 5,000 banks during the Great Depression. It prohibited commercial banks from investment activities, created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC).
Some believe that its partial repeal in 1999 through the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and that a new Glass-Steagall would decrease the risk to which taxpayers are exposed. By separating commercial banks insured by the FDIC from the investment banks, the new bill would make “Too Big to Fail” institutions actually smaller, thus reducing risks to the financial system.