Skip to main content

Too-Big-to-Fail before the Fed


“Too-big-to-fail” is consistent with policies followed by private bank clearing houses during financial crises in the U.S. National Banking Era prior to the existence of the Federal Reserve System. Private bank clearing houses provided emergency lending to member banks during financial crises. This behavior strongly suggests that “too-big-to-fail” is not the problem causing modern crises. Rather, it is a reasonable response to the threat posed to large banks by the vulnerability of short-term debt to runs.

JEL Codes: E02, E32, E42, E52, E58.
Keywords: Financial crisis, bank runs, banking panic, clearing house, bank-specific information, currency premium.


Suggested citation: Gorton, Gary, and Ellis W. Tallman, 2016. “Too-Big-to-Fail before the Fed,” Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Working Paper, no. 16-12.

Upcoming EventsSEE ALL

  • 09.15.22

    FedUniversity: Internships at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

    Join us on September 15, noon to 1:00pm, to learn about the Cleveland Fed’s annual internship program.

  • 09.29.22

    Inflation: Drivers and Dynamics 2022

    Inflation: Drivers and Dynamics 2022, co-sponsored by the Center for Inflation Research and the European Central Bank will take place on September 29-30, 2022 in Cleveland, OH.

  • 10.06.22

    Conference on Real-Time Data Analysis, Methods, and Applications

    The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is sponsoring the Annual Conference on Real-Time Data Analysis, Methods, and Applications in Macroeconomics and Finance to be held in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Cleveland Reserve Bank on Thursday and Friday, October 6–7, 2022.

  • 11.07.22

    Women in Economics Symposium

    Join the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland at the Women in Economics Symposium, which aims to encourage women to pursue a career in economics by discussing the successful career paths of diverse economics professionals and raising awareness of diversity and inclusion in the profession.

  • 11.17.22

    2022 Financial Stability Conference: Frontier Risks, a New Normal, and Policy Challenges

    The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and the Office of Financial Research will host their 10th annual financial stability conference on November 17–18, 2022. This year’s conference is titled Financial Stability: Frontier Risks, a New Normal, and Policy Challenges.