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Ethics vs. Ethos in US and UK Megabanking

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Company law in the US and UK fails to acknowledge that authorities’ propensity to rescue giant banks from the consequences of insolvency assigns taxpayers a coerced and badly structured equity stake in too-big-to-fail institutions.

The entrenched managerial norm of maximizing stockholder value lends a misplaced legitimacy to efforts by TBTF managers to take on dangerous levels of tail risk because their bank’s deep downside is effectively eliminated by the prospect of unlimited taxpayer support. Conventional tools of prudential regulation constrain but do not de-legitimate this behavior. To accomplish that end, this paper calls for: (1) a formal recognition of the fiduciary duties that TBTF firms owe to taxpayers and (2) criminalizing aggressive pursuit of safety-net subsidies as “theft by safety net.”