Tag Archives: Banking reform

The European Unraveling?

By Ana Palacio – The problem for the EU is no longer the indifference that marked the worst elements of President Barack Obama’s approach to Europe. It is outright US hostility. Trump’s praise of Brexit, which emphasized the British people’s “right to self-determination,” and his belittling reference to the EU as “the Consortium” in his appearance with British Prime Minister Theresa May, underscores his hostility.

Europe is now stuck between a US and a Russia that are determined to divide it. What are we Europeans to do?

One option is to pander to Trump. That is the approach May took on her visit to Washington, DC, when she stood by silently as Trump openly declared his support for the use of torture at their joint press conference.

But, for the EU, such appeasement would be counter-productive. It is our values, not our borders, that define us. It makes little sense to abandon them, especially to ingratiate ourselves with a leader who has shown himself to be capricious and utterly untrustworthy.

The third option – and the only viable one for the EU – is self-reliance and self-determination. Only by strengthening its own international positions – increasing its leverage, in today’s jargon – can the EU cope effectively with America’s wavering fidelity to its allies and the values they share. more> https://goo.gl/FRuIrO

The great cryptocurrency heist

By E J Spode – We need to talk about trust and its place in the fabric of our lives. Trust seems to be in short supply these days, although we have no choice but to rely on it.

We trust schools and babysitters to look after our children. We trust banks to hold our money and to transfer it safely for us. We trust insurance companies to pay us should we meet with some disaster. When we make a large purchase – such as a house – we trust our solicitors or an escrow company to hold the funds until the transaction is complete. We trust regulators and governments to make sure these institutions are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

A good way to wrap our minds around ‘blockchain’ concept is to think of its most famous application: Bitcoin. And the best way to think about Bitcoin is not in terms of coins at all but rather as a giant ledger.

Bitcoin is just one version of the blockchain. The fundamental technology has the potential to replace a much wider range of human institutions in which we use trust to reach a consensus about a state of affairs. It could provide a definitive record for property transfers, from diamonds to Porsches to original Picassos. It could be used to record contracts, to certify the authenticity of valuable goods, or to securely store your health records (and keep track of anyone who’s ever accessed them).

But there’s a catch: what about the faithful ‘execution’ of a contract? Doesn’t that require trust as well?

What good is an agr’ement, after all, if the text is there but people don’t respect it, and don’t follow through on their obligations? more> https://goo.gl/rW7huO

Backing into World War III

By Robert Kagan – Think of two significant trend lines in the world today. One is the increasing ambition and activism of the two great revisionist powers, Russia and China.

The other is the declining confidence, capacity, and will of the democratic world, and especially of the United States, to maintain the dominant position it has held in the international system since 1945. As those two lines move closer, as the declining will and capacity of the United States and its allies to maintain the present world order meet the increasing desire and capacity of the revisionist powers to change it, we will reach the moment at which the existing order collapses and the world descends into a phase of brutal anarchy, as it has three times in the past two centuries.

The cost of that descent, in lives and treasure, in lost freedoms and lost hope, will be staggering. History shows that world orders do collapse, however, and when they do it is often unexpected, rapid, and violent.

The late 18th century was the high point of the Enlightenment in Europe, before the continent fell suddenly into the abyss of the Napoleonic Wars. In the first decade of the 20th century, the world’s smartest minds predicted an end to great-power conflict as revolutions in communication and transportation knit economies and people closer together. The most devastating war in history came four years later. The apparent calm of the postwar 1920s became the crisis-ridden 1930s and then another world war.

Where exactly we are in this classic scenario today, how close the trend lines are to that intersection point is, as always, impossible to know. Are we three years away from a global crisis, or 15?

That we are somewhere on that path, however, is unmistakable.

And while it is too soon to know what effect Donald Trump’s presidency will have on these trends, early signs suggest that the new administration is more likely to hasten us toward crisis than slow or reverse these trends.

It will be more than a shame if Americans were to destroy what they created—and not because it was no longer possible to sustain but simply because they chose to stop trying. more> https://goo.gl/cGZ3En

Economics is fundamentally flawed

By David Spencer – Economics should be in crisis. But in reality it is not. Rather, economics remains largely the same as it was before the financial crisis – in effect, it remains just as problematic now as in the past. This is an issue not just for economics but for society as a whole, given the enduring power and influence of the discipline on policy and public life.

To think of economics in terms of forecasting is to limit its nature and scope. Economics ought to be about explanation. It should be able to make sense of the world beyond forecasts of the future. It is not clear that as it exists now, economics is able to understand the world in its present form. To this extent, it cannot help understand the frequency and depth of crises.

As things stand, there is little chance that economics will open up to the ideas and methods of other disciplines. Instead, the discipline has embraced a project of “economic imperialism” seeking to colonize other social sciences. Genuine interdisciplinary debate has lost out in this process. more> https://goo.gl/xDk2Mv

A General Logic of Crisis

BOOK REVIEW

How Will Capitalism End? Author: Wolfgang Streeck.
Buying Time, Author: Wolfgang Streeck.
The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-31, Author: Adam Tooze.

By Adam Tooze – The core of Streeck’s crisis theory is non-Marxian. It does not rest on the violence of original primitive accumulation, or on the alienation or exploitation inherent to the productive process, or even primarily on the declining rate of growth or accumulation.

In one disarming passage he describes capitalism as a ‘a non-violent, civilized mode of material self-enrichment through market exchange’. What makes capitalism toxic is its expansiveness, its relentless colonization of the rest of society. Drawing on Karl Polanyi, Streeck insists that capitalism destroys its own foundations.

It undermines the family units on which the reproduction of labor depends; it consumes nature; it commodifies money, which to function has to rest on a foundation of social trust. For its own good, capitalism needs political checks.

The significance of 2008 and what has happened since is that it is now clear these checks are no longer functioning. Instead, as it entered crisis, capitalism overran everything: it forced the hand of parliaments; it drove up state debts at taxpayers’ expense at the same time as aggressively rolling back what remained of the welfare state; the elected governments of Italy and Greece were sacrificed; referendums were canceled or ignored. more> https://goo.gl/T9bS8i

The Crisis Of Market Fundamentalism

BOOK REVIEW

The Communist Manifesto, Authors: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Capitalism 4.0, Author: Anatole Kaletsky.

By Anatole Kaletsky – When a particular model of capitalism is working successfully, material progress relieves political pressures. But when the economy fails – and the failure is not just a transient phase but a symptom of deep contradictions – capitalism’s disruptive social side effects can turn politically toxic.

That is what happened after 2008. Once the failure of free trade, deregulation, and monetarism came to be seen as leading to a “new normal” of permanent austerity and diminished expectations, rather than just to a temporary banking crisis, the inequalities, job losses, and cultural dislocations of the pre-crisis period could no longer be legitimized – just as the extortionate taxes of the 1950s and 1960s lost their legitimacy in the stagflation of the 1970s.

If we are witnessing this kind of transformation, then piecemeal reformers who try to address specific grievances about immigration, trade, or income inequality will lose out to radical politicians who challenge the entire system. And, in some ways, the radicals will be right.

The disappearance of “good” manufacturing jobs cannot be blamed on immigration, trade, or technology. But whereas these vectors of economic competition increase total national income, they do not necessarily distribute income gains in a socially acceptable way. To do that requires deliberate political intervention on at least two fronts. more> https://goo.gl/ozay5m

Economists versus the Economy

By Robert Skidelsky – Since the collapse of theology, no field of study has aimed to understand the human condition as a whole. But no branch of human inquiry has cut itself off from the whole – and from the other social sciences – more than economics.

This is not because of its subject matter. On the contrary, the business of earning a living still fills the greater part of our lives and thoughts. Economics – how markets works, why they sometimes break down, how to estimate the costs of a project properly – ought to be of interest to most people. In fact, the field repels all but connoisseurs of fanciful formal models.

The real trouble is that economics is cut off from the common understanding of how things work, or should work. Economists claim to make precise what is vague, and are convinced that economics is superior to all other disciplines, because the objectivity of money enables it to measure historical forces exactly, rather than approximately.

What unites the great economists, and many other good ones, is a broad education and outlook. Today’s professional economists, by contrast, have studied almost nothing but economics. They don’t even read the classics of their own discipline. more> https://goo.gl/HVu5WG

Related>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Our favorite charts of 2016: Do banks give credit where credit’s needed?

During the Great Recession, low interest rates and stimulus programs were supposed to get credit to people who would rev up the economy. But research by Sumit Agarwal of the National University of Singapore, Souphala Chomsisengphet of the US Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Chicago Booth’s Neale Mahoney, and Johannes Stroebel of NYU suggests most of the additional credit went to people who needed it least, and for whom it had the smallest impact on spending. Data visualization by Soren Messner-Zidell. more> https://goo.gl/SiFayO

Related>

It Takes a Village of Media, Business, Policy, and Academic Experts to Maintain a Dangerous Financial System

BOOK REVIEW

The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do About It, Authors: Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig.

By Anat Admati – The notion that regulators are doing their best to protect the public is false, as they succumb to “willful blindness.”

The financial system is incredibly important and it enables people to move money across time. How did we move from helping the economy to the system collapsing and needing so many bailouts? What was going on?

The financial system, writes Admati, is not only riddled with conflicts of interest, but also the potential and actual damage from excessive risk taking is largely hidden from view.

Excessive risk taking in banking, by contrast, specifically by excessive use of debt, is hard to detect or trace to specific individuals, and the harm it causes is abstract and spread out.

The victims of excessive bank borrowing, specifically the broad public, are led to believe that risks and failures are unavoidable. Because their borrowing is effectively subsidized by the government, when they seek profits banks effectively compete to endanger their depositors and the public.

“An analogy,” writes Admati, “would be subsidizing trucks to drive at reckless speed even as slower driving would cause fewer accidents.” more> https://goo.gl/UXt60f

Beware the Foreign Exodus From Treasuries

By Lisa Abramowicz – The biggest foreign buyers of U.S. government bonds are quickly retreating after years of absorbing record amounts of the securities.

This is an important dynamic to understand when looking at the potential fate of the $13.6 trillion Treasury market in 2017.

For years, many countries were huge buyers of Treasuries as they built up their foreign-currency reserves. Many now need the money and are cashing out.

China, for example, is using tons of cash to support its depreciating yuan and bolster its financial system, which is showing signs of stress as the government seeks to curb riskier lending practices. Brazil’s economy is in shambles, meaning that nation needs all the free cash it can get to plug its budget gaps. more> https://goo.gl/eov5dm