There are two big lessons from GE’s announcement that it is planning to get out of the finance business. First, the much maligned Dodd-Frank financial reform is doing some real good. Second, Republicans have been talking nonsense on the subject. OK, maybe point #2 isn’t really news, but it’s important to understand just what kind of nonsense they’ve been talking.
GE Capital was a quintessential example of the rise of shadow banking. In most important respects it acted like a bank; it created systemic risks very much like a bank; but it was effectively unregulated, and had to be bailed out through ad hoc arrangements that understandably had many people furious about putting taxpayers on the hook for private irresponsibility.
Most economists, I think, believe that the rise of shadow banking had less to do with real advantages of such nonbank banks than it did with regulatory arbitrage — that is, institutions like GE Capital were all about exploiting the lack of adequate oversight. And the general view is that the 2008 crisis came about largely because regulatory evasion had reached the point where an old-fashioned wave of bank runs, albeit wearing somewhat different clothes, was once again possible.
Krugman interprets GE's exit from the business as a sign that Dodd-Frank is working because shadow bankers can no longer play the same moral hazard game. They can't engage high upside but high-risk lending practices with too-big-to-fail offloading of risk to taxpayers.