Sunday, April 20, 2014

History of big Canadian banks

The New York Times Book Review, reviewing Fragile by Design, a book on banking systems in various countries, notes the authors' observation that since 1840 the United States has had twelve systemic bank crises and Canada has had none, despite their many similarities. Drawing the conclusion that banking is always political, the reviewer goes on:
in Canada, primarily because colonial Britain wanted to limit the autonomy of French Canada, banking policy was centralized in the national government. As a result, Canada ended up with the complete antithesis of the American system: a small number of very large banks with an extensive and diversified network of nationwide branches, which proved to be relatively resilient during hard times.
Say what?  I would have said the confederation-makers (Canadians rather than Brits, actually) were committed to substantial autonomy for French Canada, and worked out a federal system in which most of the "cultural" powers (language, education, social services, local government, most local matters) would be provincial, while the power required to build a national economic space, including control of banking, would be federal.  Right about the centralized banking system, all wrong about the motives.

Seems like a case for Andrew Smith, I thought, -- and then found his blog has already reviewed the book in question, also pretty sceptically, though for different reasons.
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