The banking crisis that began in August 2007 shocked markets and precipitated the Great Recession. To fully explain the banking crisis, one must account for its timing, severity, and global impact. One must also confront a startling historical contrast. If we define “banking crisis” to mean bank failures and system losses exceeding 1 percent of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), we find that in the period 1875-1913, a period of marked expansion in international trade and capital flows comparable to the last three decades, there were only four banking crises worldwide.(1) By contrast, in the period 1978-2009, a period of much more extensive bank regulation, central bank intervention, government protection of depositors and other bank creditors, and government control of mortgage markets, about 140 banking crises occurred worldwide. Of these, 20 were more severe than any crisis from the earlier period of 1875-1913, in terms of total bank losses as a percent of GDP.Read the whole thing here...
Leading financial economists such as Charles Calomiris have argued that a necessary condition for a banking crisis is government policy that distorts the micro-incentives of banks. Likewise, University of Chicago scholar Richard Posner has argued the banks that got into trouble during the recent crisis were simply taking “risks that seemed appropriate in the environment in which they found themselves.”(2)
But then why didn’t a banking crisis erupt sooner—say, in the recession years of 1990-1991 or 2001-2002? What changed in recent years that led to business risk-taking capable of wrecking the U.S. housing market and the U.S. banking system and other banking systems throughout the world? Further, why were prudent credit practices reasonably maintained in credit card and commercial mortgage securitization in recent years, but wholly abandoned in residential mortgage securitization?
Some economists have criticized securitization as an inherently flawed business model, particularly since the process of securitization involves a “long chain” of players with “information asymmetries.” The buyer of the mortgage or security typically knows less than the seller. But many of the financial institutions involved in subprime securitization (e.g., Citigroup) held portions of their own securitizations, and they have for decades been securitizing credit card loans without major debacles. Calomiris has observed that even during the subprime boom, banks aggregating credit card loans for securitization and investors in securitizations closely examined the identity of originators, their historical performance, the composition of portfolios, and changes in composition over time.(3)