Taleb's essential point was that those who caused the crisis—which saw some of the biggest names on Wall Street wiped out and others preserved through trillions in taxpayer-funded bailouts—didn't pay the price for their recklessness.
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Summers, a senior economic adviser both to President Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, disagreed with the thrust of Taleb's position.
"You way overstate the case that nobody suffered in this last round," Summers said. "If you look at CEOs of large institutions that needed to be bailed out on a large scale, they're almost in every case not CEOs of large institutions today. I think the notion that there were not consequences to any of this isn't right or isn't plausible."
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Taleb also asserted that too-big-to-fail institutions continue to grow while excessive risk-taking is being encouraged by ultra-loose monetary policy from the Federal Reserve.
"Every time it gets bigger," he said. "We have not cured the problem. We have interest rates near zero. Bring interest rates back up and watch."
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The debate roared back and forth, with Summers pressing Taleb to go beyond enunciating what he thought was wrong and instead come up with a better solution than the one used to bring the financial system off the brink after Lehman Brothers failed.
"I'm for more capital, I'm for more liquidity, I'm for more pressure from the government to have proper risk models that recognize fat tails as part of our regulatory system," Summers said. "I'm for stress testing that makes much more data available so that analysts outside of institutions can judge the risk. I'm for the development of living wills and procedures that if an institution fails it can be resolved."
"I'm not for the government designing the compensation systems of financial institutions. I'm not for the government running financial institutions," he said. "I'm for making them much more failure-proof and more safe for failure when they do fail. What are you for?"
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Taleb advocated a system where banks are run more like utilities and excessive risk-taking is limited to hedge funds and investment banks.
"Let's go back to when banks were boring and were utilities and were not taking too much risk with taxpayer money," he said. "A utility should not be a casino. It's a very simple point."