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Deposit insurance

  • White, Eugene

Should deposit insurance be recommended? No. History teaches us three lessons: 1) deposit insurance was not adopted primarily to protect the depositor. There were many ways to increase the soundness of the banking system. The leading alternative was to allow branching and the diversification of institutions by geography and product line. But monetary contraction and the politics of the banking crisis empowered small banks instead; 2) the history of federal and state insurance plans shows that it is all but impossible to escape the moral hazard and other problems inherent in deposit insurance; and 3) in setting up banking regulations, including deposit insurance, a banking lobby will be created that will campaign to protect the industry as it stands, and the industry will be pushed on a course that will be difficult to alter. The public is greatly concerned about the safety of its deposits. The problem is one of information: for households and small businesses, it is costly to monitor the performance of banks and decide which is safest. There is strong historical precedent for at least one alternative to deposit insurance and its perverse effects: regulators could require each bank to offer deposit accounts that are segregated, treasury-bill mutual funds. This type of account is effectively insurance from the government, with the same guarantee as government bonds, but without the wrong incentives for financial institutions that arise from deposit insurance.

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Paper provided by The World Bank in its series Policy Research Working Paper Series with number 1541.

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Date of creation: 30 Nov 1995
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Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:1541
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  1. Charles W. Calomiris & Eugene N. White, 1994. "The Origins of Federal Deposit Insurance," NBER Chapters, in: The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, pages 145-188 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Charles W. Calomiris, 1989. "Deposit insurance: lessons from the record," Economic Perspectives, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, issue May, pages 10-30.
  3. White, Eugene Nelson, 1986. "Before the Glass-Steagall Act: An analysis of the investment banking activities of national banks," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 33-55, January.
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