Words of wisdom, from Kevin Drum
I agree with this:
It's not practical to micromanage risk-taking in the financial sector, nor is it feasible to eliminate bubbles and bank crises entirely. But I really do believe that we could very substantially reduce the risk of bank crises without affecting the efficiency of legitimate banking operations. The way to do it is with very simple, very blunt leverage restrictions that apply to all financial actors over a certain size: banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity, you name it. If you have assets over, say, $10 billion, then the rules kick in. Strict leverage limits (say, 10:1 or maybe 15:1) based on conservative notions of both assets and capital would be a pretty effective bulwark against excessive risk taking but wouldn't seriously interfere with the basic asset allocation function of the financial industry.
It wouldn't be perfect. Nothing is perfect. But if we got obsessed with leverage the same way that, say, the Fed is obsessed with inflation, we could all sleep a lot easier at night.
I would add, however, that obsessing over leverage is likely to prove an electoral disaster. It means limiting credit growth, money supply growth, raising the cost of consumer borrowing, and putting the housing market at a further disadvantage. It also means staring down financial interest groups.