Should we break up big banks?


Ever since the news got out that the U.K. plans to force some of its large, bailout-receiving banks to sell off some operations and become smaller, there's been plenty of speculation on this side of the pond that we might do the same thing.

Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, threw down the gauntlet when he said recently that banks considered "too big to fail" should be broken up to make the economy more stable. (Fisher's full speech on the topic is here if you're interested.) A committee in the House of Representatives is pushing for new legislation that would go even further and let the government break up other kinds of companies -- not just banks -- it deemed a threat.

It's a very satisfying idea: Banks that get too big to handle should be forced to downsize. Only trouble is, a lot of economists think it won't address the problem. "The problem is, the really emotionally satisfying things that we could do all create more harm than good," said Douglas Elliott, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. On the subject of breaking up banks dubbed too big to fail, Elliot told WalletPop, "It would hurt the economy, which ends up hitting the average person."