The redistributive effects of financial deregulation: wall street versus main street

Working Papers No 468
October 2014

Financial regulation is often framed as a question of economic efficiency. This paper, by contrast, puts the distributive implications of financial regulation at center stage. We develop a formal model in which the financial sector benefits from financial risk-taking by earning greater expected returns. However, risk-taking also increases the incidence of large losses that lead to credit crunches and impose negative externalities on the real economy. We describe a Pareto frontier along which different levels of risk-taking map into different levels of welfare for the two parties, pitting Main Street against Wall Street. A regulator has to trade off efficiency in the financial sector, which is aided by deregulation, against efficiency in the real economy, which is aided by tighter regulation and a more stable supply of credit. We also show that financial innovation, asymmetric compensation schemes, concentration in the banking system, and bailout expectations enable or encourage greater risk-taking and allocate greater surplus to Wall Street at the expense of Main Street.

JEL classification: G28, E25, E44, H23

Keywords: financial regulation, distributive conflict, rent extraction, growth of the financial sector