Four Ways of Looking at a TBTF Subsidy: A Reply to Dean Baker

The discussion over a Too Big To Fail (TBTF) subsidy, where the largest banks are able to borrow more cheaply as the result of potential future bailouts, is back in the discussion. Paul Krugman referenced it with a link to my review of two studies arguing the subsidy has largely declined since the crisis. Dean Baker has responded with critical thoughts on the studies.

My point isn’t to say that the subsidy is completely over. Nor, as I’ll explain in a bit, is it to say that TBTF is over. Instead, understanding this decline lets us know we should push forward with what we are doing. It debunks conservative narratives about Dodd-Frank being fundamentally a protective permanent bailout for the largest firms that we should scrap, and provides evidence against repealing it. And ideally it gets us to understand this subsidy as just one part of the more general TBTF problem that needs to be solved.

I’ll first respond to Dean Baker. Then I’ll map out four different ways of understanding what we mean by a TBTF subsidy, and what is and isn’t fixed, because that might clarify other responses I’ve been getting.

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