This post is the fifth in a series of thirteen Liberty Street Economics posts on Large and Complex Banks. For more on this topic, see this special issue of the Economic Policy Review.
Building upon previous posts in this series that discussed individual banks, we examine the historical growth of the entire financial sector, relative to the rest of the economy. This sector’s historically large share of the economy today (see chart below) and its role in disrupting the functioning of the real economy during the recent financial crisis have led to questions about the social value of costly financial services. While new regulations such as the Dodd-Frank Act impose restrictions on financial activities and increase their costs, especially those of large firms, our paper suggests that there may be limits to what regulation can achieve. In particular, we show that financial growth has occurred in the more opaque and harder to regulate sectors: private firms, shadow banks, and small nonbank financial firms. Moreover, we find that the stock market values these opaque areas of finance more, suggesting that they may expand even faster in the future.