Masters of Illusion: Bank and Regulatory Accounting for Losses in Distressed Banks

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The study seeks to explain why the instruments of central banking inevitably break down over time.

This essay is part of a larger work on the history of Federal Reserve policymaking entitled Banking on Bull. The study seeks to explain why the instruments of central banking inevitably break down over time. A big part of the explanation is that policymakers want accounting measures of bank net worth to be flexible enough to allow bankers and regulators to slow the release of adverse information about distressed banks, particularly very large ones. Modern regulatory frameworks focus on maintaining what can be described as the adequacy of accounting capital. But this framework is bull, because in tough times, bank accountants know how to make losses disappear.