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Bank capital is an illusion: Bethany McLean

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind
Daily Ticker

Bethany McLean literally wrote the book on corruption -- The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron -- so when the Vanity Fair contributing editor says something seems fishy we listen.

Monday it was revealed that Bank of America (BAC) made a $4 billion accounting error. After reporting the mistake to the Federal Reserve the bank was forced to stop a share buyback and an increase in its quarterly dividend.  

Related: 'Don't starve lending' with bank capital requirements that are too high: ABA President Frank Keating

“How do you make a mistake with something like this?” says McLean. “I think it speaks to complexity which is a big problem in our modern economy and a big problem with the financial sector in general.”

Still, McLean doesn’t think capital is what’s needed to keep these banks safe. “Capital isn’t this pile of money sitting somewhere, it’s an accounting construct,” she says. “And if you don’t have the accounting right then the capital is just an illusion anyway so I am a little weary of this notion that has taken hold…that if we have enough capital we’re safe come hell or high-water, I don’t buy it.”

Related: 'Banks need more capital - the good times won't last forever': Sheila Bair

McLean thinks we’re much better off than we were in 2008 and that though there might be another crisis, it won’t be in the banking sector.

As far as markets in general go, McLean calls herself a perma-bear, and says she’s worried about a tech bubble, profit coming from cost-cutting and not growth, and the slow-down in China.

Watch the video above for more on McLean's market views.

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