(Paul Jacob) – How many times, in the last year, have I heard praise for FDR’s banking reforms, even down to the specifics of federal deposit insurance?
The funny thing is, this factoid is false. Roosevelt opposed deposit insurance. Everyone did who at that time knew the history of the states that had experimented with this form of subsidy. Only logrolling pushed deposit insurance into law as a known special favor to small banks in rural areas — not to cure the nation’s ills.
The actual history and lessons of bank failures is explored by Charles Calomiris in a recent paper provocatively titled “Banking Crises Yesterday and Today.” According to this Columbia Business School professor, bank panics were not uncommon in the U.S., prior to the Federal Reserve in 1913. And the Fed pretty much stopped them. Massive bank failures, on the other hand, are different. Not unheard of elsewhere, massive failures had not been a problem in America leading up to that time. However, such failures became a problem a few decades later in the Great Depression.
Calomiris explains that such massive crises are brought on, chiefly, by institutional risk factors, like deposit insurance, government manipulation of the housing market to increase ownership through loosening of financial standards, and the “too big to fail” doctrine.
It turns out that honest standards, and not mammoth government subsidies and guarantees, prove the best way to prevent catastrophe.
(Mr. Jacob is president of the Citizens in Charge Foundation)