Too Big to Fail: Why The Big Banks Should Be Broken Up, But Why The White House and Congress Don't Want To.

And now there are five -- five Wall Street behemoths, bigger than they were before the Great Meltdown, paying fatter salaries and bonuses to retain their so-called talent, and raking in huge profits. The biggest difference between now and last October is these biggies didn't know then that they were too big to fail and the government would bail them out if they got into trouble. Now they do. And like a giant, gawking adolescent who's just discovered he can crash the Lexus convertible his rich dad gave him and the next morning have a new one waiting in his driveway courtesy of a dad who can't say no, the biggies will drive even faster now, taking even bigger risks.

What to do? Two ideas are floating around Washington, but only one is supported by the Treasury and the White House. Unfortunately, it's the wrong one.

The right idea is to break up the giant banks. I don't often agree with Alan Greenspan but he was right when he said last week that "[i]f they're too big to fail, they're too big." Greenspan noted that the government broke up Standard Oil in 1911, and what happened? "The individual parts became more valuable than the whole. Maybe that's what we need to do." (Historic footnote: Had Greenspan not supported in 1999 Congress's repeal of the Glass-Stagall Act, which separated investment from commercial banking, we wouldn't be in the soup we're in to begin with.)

More after the jump.

--Robert Reich

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