Category Archives: Banking

Too much theory leads economists to bad predictions

By Peter A Coclanis – In economics, as a result, both economic history and (especially) the history of economic thought withered for a generation or two.

So what accounts for the recent change of course? For starters, there was the Great Recession – or ‘Lesser Depression’, as Krugman called it in 2011 – which seemed to a few influential economists such as Ben Bernanke, Carmen Rinehart, Ken Rogoff and Barry Eichengreen similar in many ways to other financial crises in the past. But there were other factors too, including the general retreat from globalisation, and the renascence of both nationalist and authoritarian movements around the world, which sounded the death knell for Fukuyama’s benign new world.

As ‘history’ returned, so too has a degree of acceptance of historical approaches among social scientists, who sense, however vaguely, that though history might not repeat itself, it often rhymes, as Mark Twain (might have) put it.

Thinking historically, of course, entails both temporal and contextual dimensions and, in addition, often requires a significant amount of empirical work. Indeed, finding, assembling, analysing and drawing accurate conclusions from the bodies of evidence that historians call data is not for the weak of heart or, more to the point, for those short of time.

So, bottom line: economic forecasters would profit from thinking a bit more about history before gazing into their crystal balls, or at least before telling us what they see. more>

Inequality: from redistribution to predistribution and beyond?

Soaring income inequality inevitably raises discussion of more progressive taxation. But a more fundamental focus on the ownership of capital is needed.
By Liam Kennedy – The now much-traveled line from the historian Rutger Bregman at Davos 2019 is a perfect encapsulation of the Zeitgeist: inequality is out of control, we know more or less how to reduce it but, instead of actually doing anything, here we are pretending to be baffled by the state of the world.

Outside those snow-capped peaks, there is, of course, widespread recognition of the need to tackle spiraling inequality. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has spoken about it, the International Monetary Fund has written about it and reducing inequalities is enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Unfortunately, this evidence does not always translate into coherent political action. In the United Kingdom, for example, top rates of income tax have become less progressive over the decades while corporation tax has been consistently cut since 2010. Acknowledging the inequality problem is a crucial first step—but there is also a strong case for looking beyond ‘taxes, taxes, taxes’ if it is to be truly tackled.

Additionally, UK income-inequality statistics are plagued with problems which militate against any consistent understanding of how much income those at the very top of the distribution are actually ‘earning’.  To put it bluntly, the rich are even richer than we realize.

The truth is that the initial fall in income inequality seen after the financial crisis was an aberration which has allowed the government to mask the more systemic and continuing rise in inequality the UK has experienced since the late 1970s. more>

Green money without inflation

Funding an ecological transition in Europe via ‘green money’ bonds would be economically justifiable.
By Paul De Grauwe – To what extent can the money created by the central bank be used to finance investments in the environment?

This is a question often asked today. The green activists respond with enthusiasm that the central bank—and, in particular, the European Central Bank (ECB)—should stimulate the financing of environmental investments through the printing of money.

The ECB has created €2,600 billion of new money since 2015 in the context of its quantitative easing (QE) program. All that money has gone to financial institutions which have done very little with it. Why can’t the ECB inject the money into environmental investments instead of pouring it into the financial sector?

Most traditional economists react with horror.

Who is right? It is good to recall the basics of money creation by the ECB (or any modern central bank). Money is created when that institution buys financial assets in the market. The suppliers of these assets are financial institutions. These then obtain a deposit in euro at the ECB, in exchange for relinquishing these financial assets. That is the moment when money is created. This money (deposits) can then be used as their reserve base by the financial institutions to extend loans to companies and households.

There is no limit to the amount of financial assets the ECB can buy.

In principle, it could purchase all existing financial assets (all bonds and shares, for example), but that would increase the money supply in such a way that inflation would increase dramatically. In other words, the value of the money issued by the ECB would fall sharply. To avoid this, the bank has set a limit: it promises not to let inflation rise above 2 per cent. That imposes a constraint on the amount of money which the ECB can create. So far, it has been successful in remaining within the 2 per cent inflation target. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Raghuram G. Rajan says capitalism’s future lies in stronger communities
By Raghuram G. Rajan – You have a new book out called The Third Pillar. What is the third pillar?

It is the community. Around the world, there is widespread economic anxiety, domestic political tension, strife between countries, and now talk of a cold war reemerging between the United States and China. Why?

I argue that every time there’s a big technological revolution, it upsets the balance in society between three pillars: the political structure—that is, government or the state; the economic structure—that is, markets and firms; and the sociological, human structure—that is, communities.

When that balance is upset, we see anxiety and conflict, a signal that we’re striving for a new balance.

To really understand capitalism’s success, one has to understand the important role of the community. As it voices its concerns through democracy, the community is critical to maintaining the balance between the state and markets. When the community is appropriately motivated and engaged, it enables liberal market societies to flourish.

Recently, some communities have been weakened significantly while others have sped ahead. Technological change is creating a new meritocracy, but one that is turning out to be largely hereditary, denying opportunities to many. The many, in economically disadvantaged and thus socially dysfunctional communities, could turn their backs on markets. The consequent imbalances could undermine liberal democratic society. more>

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Time for a red shift from Germany’s ‘black zero’

By Peter Bofinger – If our children and grandchildren look back on the present day in 30 years, they will wonder how it was that such a civilised country as the United Kingdom could actually entertain leaving the European Union and robbing itself of its economic and political prospects.

In Germany they could ask the question why the land of poets and thinkers came up with the idea of ​​blindly sacrificing itself to the ideology of the ‘black zero’.

How could it be that Germany deliberately renounced investments in the future—and even believed that in doing so it was doing future generations a favor?

The German social-democrat party (SPD) is currently correcting mistakes from the past. This applies in particular to the 2005 ‘Hartz IV’ labor-market reform proposed by the eponymous commission, chaired by the personnel director of Volkswagen, established when Gerard Schröder was SPD chancellor. It has been celebrated as a great success for many years. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to resemble the fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes.

Today, Germany has a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product of 56 per cent, which is already below the 60 per cent threshold set by the Maastricht treaty. It is considerably below the level of the other G7 countries: Japan has the highest debt at 237 per cent of GDP, followed by Italy (129 per cent), the United States (108), France (96), the United Kingdom (87) and Canada (85).

Economics has so far failed to derive convincingly an upper limit on the debt-to-GDP ratio. more>

Debunking Deregulation: Bank Credit Guidance and Productive Investment

Deregulated banking in rich countries delivers more “investment” in speculative asset markets, not productive businesses.
By Josh Ryan-Collins – Mortgage and other asset-market lending typically does not generate income streams sufficient to finance the growth of debt. Instead, the empirical evidence suggests that after a certain point relative to GDP, increases in mortgage debt typically slows growth and increase financial instability as asset prices rise faster than incomes.

These new empirical findings support a much older body of theory that argues that credit markets, left to their own devices, will not optimize the allocation of resources.

Instead, following Joseph Schumpeter’s, Keynes’ and Hyman Minsky’s arguments, they will tend to shift financial resources away from real-sector investment and innovation and towards asset markets and speculation; away from equitable income growth and towards capital gains that polarizes wealth and income; and away from a robust, stable growth path and towards fragile boom-busts cycles with frequent crises.

This means, we argue, there is a strong case for regulation, including via instruments that guide credit. In fact, from the end of World War II up to the 1980s, most advanced economy central banks and finance ministries routinely used forms of credit guidance as the norm, rather than the exception. These include instruments that effected both the demand for credit for specific sectors (e.g. Loan-to-Value ratios or subsidies) and the supply of credit (e.g. credit ceilings or quotas and interest rate limits).

In Europe, favored sectors typically included exports, farming and manufacturing, while repressed sectors were imports, the service sector, and household mortgages and consumption. Indeed, commercial banks in many advanced economies were effectively restricted from entering the residential mortgage market up until the 1980s. Public institutions — state investment banks and related bodies — were also created to specifically steer credit towards desired sectors. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

What causes stock market crashes, from Shanghai to Wall Street
By Michael Maiello – The Shanghai Stock Exchange reached a historic peak in June 2015, and then plunged, losing almost 40 percent of its value in a month. This crash of the world’s second-largest stock market evoked comparisons to the 1929 Wall Street collapse, and provided a laboratory for testing an enduring explanation of its causes.

It has long been theorized that the 1929 crash reflected “leverage-induced fire sales,” according to University of International Business and Economics’ Jiangze Bian, Chicago Booth’s Zhiguo He, Yale’s Kelly Shue, and Tsinghua University’s Hao Zhou. They acknowledge that the theory has been well-developed to explain how excessive leverage makes investors sell in emergency conditions, accelerating market crashes. But they suggest that, until now, the empirical research has been lacking—and the China crash finally offers empirical evidence.

The researchers analyzed account-level data for hundreds of thousands of investors in China’s stock market. Because leverage was introduced in mainland China only in 2010, Bian, He, Shue, and Zhou were able to examine the implications of leverage-limiting regulations imposed in this decade. During the first half of 2015, there were two sources of leverage for Chinese investors—regulated brokerage houses and nonregulated online lending platforms. The latter, along with other nonbank lenders such as trust companies, formed the shadow-banking industry in China. The researchers thus studied the effects of each type of borrowing. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why artificial intelligence isn’t boosting the economy—yet
By Alex Verkhivker – Measured productivity has been declining for more than a decade in the United States and abroad. It calls to mind Solow’s paradox, a 1987 observation by the Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow, who noted that one “can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the same thing is happening with artificial intelligence, or AI, according to MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, MIT PhD candidate Daniel Rock, and Chicago Booth’s Chad Syverson.

AI is a once-in-a-lifetime, general-purpose technology that promises to provide an “engine of growth,” they write. This was also true of the steam engine, electricity, and the internal combustion engine.

And yet, the researchers point out, the steam technologies that drove the US industrial revolution took nearly 50 years to show up in rising productivity statistics. And the first 25 years after the development of the electric motor and internal combustion engine were associated with a productivity slump, with growth of less than 1.5 percent a year. Then in 1915, the pace of economic expansion doubled for 10 years.

In these cases, the researchers find signs of what they call “the productivity J-curve,” a period in economic data when productivity growth is underestimated, followed by a period when it’s overestimated. This dynamic may have also applied to the computer-powered information-technology era, with 25 years of slow productivity growth followed by a decadelong acceleration, from 1995 through 2005.

Why does this happen? more>

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They Don’t Just Hide Their Money. Economist Says Most of Billionaire Wealth is Unearned.

By Didier Jacobs – The 62 richest people in the world own as much wealth as half of humanity. Such extreme wealth conjures images of both fat cats and deserving entrepreneurs. So where did so much money come from?

It turns out, three-fourths of extreme wealth in the US falls on the fat cat side.

A key empirical question in the inequality debate is to what extent rich people derive their wealth from “rents”, which is windfall income they did not produce, as opposed to activities creating true economic benefit.

Economists define “rent” as the difference between what people are paid and what they would have to be paid to do the work anyway. The classical example is the farmer who owns particularly fertile land.

With the same effort, she can produce more than other farmers working on land of average productivity. The extra income she gets is a rent. Monopolists also get rent by overcharging customers as compared to what they could charge in competitive markets.

More generally, economists have identified a series of “market failures”, which are situations where full competition does not prevail and where someone can therefore overcharge – they would be ready to do the work for less, but lack of competition allows them to make a quick extra buck. Government can alleviate market failures through proper economic regulation; or it can make them worse.

Political scientists define “rent-seeking” as influencing government to get special privileges, such as subsidies or exclusive production licenses, to capture income and wealth produced by others.

So how much of extreme wealth derives from rents? more>

Updates from ITU

Time to eliminate the password: New report on next-generation authentication for digital financial services
By ITU News – “We don’t want digital financial services to be built on the wrong foundation, which is the password,” says Abbie Barbir, Rapporteur for ITU standardization work on ‘Identity management architecture and mechanisms’ (Q10/17).

Over 3 billion usernames and passwords were stolen in 2016, and the number of data breaches in 2017 rose 44.7 per cent higher than that recorded in 2016.

“We are moving away from the ‘shared secret’ model of authentication,” says digital ID strategist and standards expert, Andrew Hughes of InTurn Consulting, referring principally to the username-password model of authentication.

“Considering the prevalence of data breaches, there are no secrets anymore,” says Hughes.

Designed to overcome the limitations of passwords, specifications developed by the FIDO Alliance (‘Fast Identity Online’) enable users to authenticate locally to their device using biometrics, with the device then authenticating the user online with public key cryptography.

This model is not susceptible to phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks or other forms of attacks targeting user credentials.

“This is the biggest transformation we have seen in authentication in 20 years,” says Jeremy Grant, Managing Director of Technology Business Strategy at Venable. more>

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