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Mark J. Roe & Michael Tröge, The 2017 Tax Act’s Potential Impact on Bank Safety and Capitalization (Nov. 10, 2018).

Abstract: Much has been written and discussed in banking circles about recent rollbacks in prudential regulation, with some seeing the rollbacks as unsafe and others seeing them as allowing stronger financial action. Undiscussed is that the basic taxation of the corporation in the United States — and banks are taxed like ordinary corporations — has a profound impact on the level of debt and equity throughout the economy and in the banking system in particular, and that recent changes to the tax code could affect bank safety, stability, and capitalization levels. We analyze here how and why the 2017 tax act will incentivize banks to be better capitalized, albeit modestly so. For those worried about regulatory rollbacks that decrease bank safety, this tax incentive — which has been unremarked upon and not analyzed in the academic literature, as far as we can tell — offsets some recent regulatory rollbacks. And, more important analytically and potentially for policy, we show that this tax change, if properly expanded, would have a major beneficial safety impact on banks. Properly reformed, the taxation of banks (1) can substantially improve bank safety, at a level that may well rival the improvements from post-crisis regulation and (2) can be done in a revenue-neutral way.