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George Will | Time to break up the big banks





With his chronically gravelly voice and relentlessly liberal agenda, Sherrod Brown seems to have stepped out of “Les Miserables,” hoarse from singing revolutionary anthems at the barricades. Today, Ohio’s senior senator has a project worthy of Victor Hugo — and of conservatives’ support. He wants to break up the biggest banks.

He would advocate this even if he thought such banks would never have a crisis sufficient to threaten the financial system. He believes they are unhealthy for the financial system even when they are healthy. This is because there is a silent subsidy — an unfair competitive advantage relative to community banks — inherent in being deemed by the government, implicitly but clearly, too big to fail.

The Senate has unanimously passed a bill offered by Brown and Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, directing the Government Accountability Office to study whether banks with more than $500?billion in assets acquire an “economic benefit” because of their dangerous scale. Is their debt priced favorably because, being TBTF, they are considered especially creditworthy? Brown believes the 20 largest banks pay less when borrowing — 50 to 80 basis points less — than community banks must pay.

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