Tag Archives: Banking reform

The Ideology of Self-interest Caused the Financial Crash. We Need a New Economic Paradigm

By Mark van Vugt and Michael E. Price – We are still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, which started in the US in 2008, and that has now spread to every corner of the world.

The financial crisis should teach us some important lessons about the way economies work and the way we design our organizations. In essence, we have simply made the wrong assumptions about human nature. The leading model in economic theory is that of Homo economicus, a person who makes decisions based on their rational self-interest. Led by an invisible hand, that of the market, the pursuit of self-interest automatically produces the best outcomes for everyone. Looking at the financial crisis today this idea is no longer tenable. When individual greed dominates, everyone suffers. We could have known this all along had we looked more closely at human evolution.

Economic scientists often portray competition between firms as a Darwinian struggle where firms compete and only the fittest ones survive. The British financial historian Niall Ferguson wrote “Left to itself, natural selection should work fast to eliminate the weakest institutions in the market, which typically are gobbled up by the successful.”

This may be true but it is not the outcome of individual greed and competition.

Competition between firms presupposes that individuals cooperate well with each other, and the most cooperative organizations survive, and the least cooperative organizations go extinct. This is group selection, selection operating at the level of groups, where the best groups survive.

This is a far more accurate model of how economies and business operate, and it offers a totally new way of thinking about the design of organizations and ways to avert global financial crises.

A team of evolutionary minded psychologists, biologists and economists led by biologist David Sloan Wilson have come together over the past few years to come up with a more accurate model for how businesses and economies operate. It is based on Homo sapiens rather than Homo economicus. Their efforts are put together in an Evolution Institute report on socially responsible businesses “Doing Well By Doing Good.” more>

Hedge funds assets plunged by $88 billion in 2018

By Matt Egan – The hedge fund industry suffered a brutal 2018 as nervous clients yanked tens of billions of dollars from their portfolios. Hundreds of funds shut down and bets on tech stocks and oil blew up.

Hedge fund assets under management plummeted by $88 billion last year, according to research by eVestment, a firm that provides software to institutional investors. It was easily the deepest decline in assets for the industry since the financial crisis a decade ago, eVestment said in a report published.

Extreme turbulence across financial markets exposed glaring performance issues that have dogged hedge funds for years.

“Investors were again reminded that the industry is not necessarily full of exceptional managers,” wrote Peter Laurelli, eVestment’s global head of research. “There is no disputing the numbers.”

That realization hit a crescendo last month, when the S&P 500 suffered its steepest December decline since the Great Depression.

Jittery clients pulled $19.6 billion out of hedge funds that month alone, lifting annual withdrawals to $35.3 billion, eVestment said. more>

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To end poverty, think like a spy

By Paul M. Bisca – For anyone working to end poverty, fragile states call for the ultimate juggling act. Countries in conflict seldom control their territories, and even when most areas are at peace, others may still be engulfed by violence for decades to come.

The intensity of civil wars can ebb and flow, while forcibly displaced people cross borders in search of shelter. Politicians and warlords can shift alliances abruptly and neighboring states often interfere militarily to prop up local proteges.

When geopolitics is not at play, internal disputes over land, water, or other scarce resources can ignite fighting between local populations. To make sense of all these moving parts, even the most knowledgeable experts must look for new ways to comprehend the world.

What can be done?

To better manage the unknown, development professionals might want to take a leaf from the intelligence community book and draw inspiration from how spies try to predict the future. Reduced to its simplest terms, the CIA defines intelligence as “knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decisions by policymakers.”

Other definitions emphasize the collection, processing, integration, analysis, and interpretation of available information from closed and open sources.

Development practitioners are not spies, nor should they aspire to be. Further, the idea that project managers and economists should behave like spies is bound to raise eyebrows for professionals driven by the quest for sustainability and equity.

Yet, the methodology of intelligence is well-suited to paint in our minds the interplay of actions, information, and analysis needed to navigate the complex, uncertain, and downright dangerous environments where extreme poverty stubbornly persists.

This approach is not about acting like James Bond, but rather about thinking like him. more>

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>

But Can The Government Afford It?

By John T. Harvey – We’ve been hearing that a lot lately, being asked about things like the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, the possibility of universal health care, and even regarding existing programs like Social Security. It’s a relevant question, to be sure, but 99 times out of 100 (or maybe 999 out of 1000), the context in which it is placed is completely wrong.

I say this because the question is almost always asked regarding whether or not we have enough money. If there is one place where the economics discipline has most substantially let down the general public, it’s in explaining how the financial sector works.

Long story short: money is not a scarce resource. Labor is, oil is, clean water is. Money is not.

Money can be and is created with a keystroke, just as easily as I am typing these words. This is true in both the public and private sectors. The private sector creates brand new money every time someone takes out a loan.

It is a widespread belief that banks simply loan out people’s savings. Certainly that’s part of what they do, but only a very small part. Imagine if we really had to wait for people to save up enough cash for entrepreneurs to build restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, car dealerships, etc. Economic expansions would be very few and very weak.

Fortunately, that’s not what happens. Instead, when banks make loans, they simply create a deposit for the borrower out of thin air. Their only problem then is meeting the government’s reserve requirement. However, if the Federal Reserve wants to hit its interest rate target, it must supply those reserves (because if it doesn’t, banks will find themselves short of reserves which will drive up interest rates as they compete for them).

If the bank agrees that you have a clever idea, the money to fund it will be created. more>

How Bronze Age Rulers Simply Canceled Debts

By Michael Hudson – My book And forgive them their debts”: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption from Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year  is about the origins of economic organization ad enterprise in the Bronze Age, and how it shaped the Bible. It’s not about modern economies. But the problem is – as the reviewer mentioned – that the Bronze Age and early Western civilization was shaped so differently from what we think of as logical and normal, that one almost has to rewire one’s brain to see how differently the archaic view of economic survival and enterprise was.

Credit economies existed long before money and coinage. These economies were agricultural. Grain was the main means of payment – but it was only paid once a year, at harvest time. You can imagine how awkward it would be to carry around grain in your pocket and measure it out every time you had a beer.

We know how Sumerians and Babylonians paid for their beer (which they drank through straws, and which was cleaner than the local water). The ale-woman marked it up on the tab she kept. The tab had to be paid at harvest time, on the threshing floor, when the grain was nice and fresh. The ale-woman then paid the palace or temple for its advance of wholesale beer for her to retail during the year.

If the crops failed, or if there was a flood or drought, or a military battle, the cultivators couldn’t pay. So what was the ruler to do? If he said, “You owe the tax collector, and can’t pay. Now you have to become his slave and let him foreclose on your land.”

Suddenly, you would have had a slave society. The cultivators couldn’t serve in the army, and couldn’t perform their corvée duties to build local infrastructure.

To avoid this, the ruler simply cancelled the debts (most of which were owed ultimately to the palace and its collectors). The cultivators didn’t have to pay the ale-women. And the ale women didn’t have to pay the palace.

All this was spelled out in the Clean Slate proclamations by rulers of Hammurabi’s dynasty in Babylonia (2000-1600 BC), and neighboring Near Eastern realms. They recognized that there was a cycle of buildup of debt, reaching an unpayably high overhead, followed by a cancellation to restore the status quo ante in balance.

This concept is very hard for Westerners to understand. more>

Four Lessons (Not) Learned From The Financial Crisis

By John T. Harvey – That’s fantastic. Good work, Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump. But just because we bailed the water out of the sinking ship doesn’t mean we patched all the holes. And while the former is a necessary first step, without the latter we won’t remain upright for long.

So what didn’t we fix that could still potentially cause a catastrophic leak? Too much. Here’s a short list of what we should have learned but didn’t.

  1. If you are going to bail someone out, bail out the debtor and not the creditor
  2. Financial institutions should be very closely supervised
  3. The market is not always right
  4. Deficit spending doesn’t cause inflation or bankruptcy

Most people assume that what financial institutions do is loan out other people’s money. That is, of course, part of what they do, but what is far more significant is the fact that they create money. I don’t just mean the intro-econ, money-multiplier story where banks make loans after the Federal Reserve injects new funds. In fact, that view is so wrong that economics professors are beginning to eliminate it from their curriculum (not nearly fast enough, but it’s getting there).

Rather, the standard scenario is one in which banks increase the money supply first by making loans to customers and then the Federal Reserve steps in second to supply the necessary reserves. Financial institutions make money out of thin air, not from someone’s savings, and if that leaves the system short of reserves then the Fed buys securities from banks. They do this to prevent interest rates from rising above their targeted rate and therefore the central bank accommodates rather than dictates when it comes to the supply of money. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

By Michael Maiello – Yale University’s Bryan T. Kelly, Chicago Booth’s Dacheng Xiu, and Booth PhD candidate Shihao Gu investigated 30,000 individual stocks that traded between 1957 and 2016, examining hundreds of possibly predictive signals using several techniques of machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence.

They conclude that ML had significant advantages over conventional analysis in this challenging task.

ML uses statistical techniques to give computers abilities that mimic and sometimes exceed human learning. The idea is that computers will be able to build on solutions to previous problems to eventually tackle issues they weren’t explicitly programmed to take on.

“At the broadest level, we find that machine learning offers an improved description of asset price behavior relative to traditional methods,” the researchers write, suggesting that ML could become the engine of effective portfolio management, able to predict asset-price movements better than human managers.

Of almost 100 characteristics the researchers investigated, the most successful predictors were price trends, liquidity, and volatility. more>

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Are Stock Buybacks Starving the Economy?

By Annie Lowrey – Stock buybacks are eating the world. The once illegal practice of companies purchasing their own shares is pulling money away from employee compensation, research and development, and other corporate priorities—with potentially sweeping effects on business dynamism, income and wealth inequality, working-class economic stagnation, and the country’s growth rate. Evidence for that conclusion comes from a new report by Irene Tung of the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and Katy Milani of the Roosevelt Institute, who looked at share buybacks in the restaurant, retail, and food industries from 2015 to 2017.

Buybacks occur when a company takes profits, cash reserves, or borrowed money to purchase its own shares on the public markets, a practice barred until the Ronald Reagan administration.

The regulatory argument against allowing the practice is that it is a way for companies to manipulate the markets; the regulatory argument for it is that companies should be able to spend money how they see fit.

In recent years, with corporate profits high, American firms have bought their own stocks with extraordinary zeal.

Federal Reserve data show that buybacks are now equivalent to 4 percent of annual economic output, up from zero percent in the 1990s. Companies spent roughly $7 trillion on their own shares from 2004 to 2014, and have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on buybacks in the past six months alone. more>