Tag Archives: Credit

The Western Illusion of Chinese Innovation

By Zhang Jun – In the West, many economists and observers now portray China as a fierce competitor for global technological supremacy. They believe that the Chinese state’s capacity is enabling the country, through top-down industrial policies, to stand virtually shoulder-to-shoulder with Europe and the US.

This is a serious misrepresentation.

While it is true that digital technologies are transforming China’s economy, this reflects the implementation of mobile-Internet-enabled business models more than the development of cutting-edge technologies, and it affects consumption patterns more than, say, manufacturing.

In fact, Western observers – not just the media, but also academics and government leaders, including US President Donald Trump – have fundamentally misunderstood the nature and exaggerated the role of China’s policies for developing strategic and high-tech industries. Contrary to popular belief, these policies do little more than help lower the entry cost for firms and enhance competition. In fact, such policies encourage excessive entry, and the resulting competition and lack of protection for existing firms have been constantly criticized in China. Therefore, if China relies on effective industrial policies, they would not create much unfairness in terms of global rules.

Clearly, there is a big difference between applying digital technologies to consumer-oriented business models and becoming a world leader in developing and producing hard technology. more>

Why The Only Answer Is To Break Up The Biggest Wall Street Banks

By Robert Reich – Glass-Steagall’s key principle was to keep risky assets away from insured deposits. It worked well for more than half century. Then Wall Street saw opportunities to make lots of money by betting on stocks, bonds, and derivatives (bets on bets) – and in 1999 persuaded Bill Clinton and a Republican congress to repeal it.

Nine years later, Wall Street had to be bailed out, and millions of Americans lost their savings, their jobs, and their homes.

Why didn’t America simply reinstate Glass-Steagall after the last financial crisis? Because too much money was at stake. Wall Street was intent on keeping the door open to making bets with commercial deposits. So instead of Glass-Steagall, we got the Volcker Rule – almost 300 pages of regulatory mumbo-jumbo, riddled with exemptions and loopholes.

Now those loopholes and exemptions are about to get even bigger, until they swallow up the Volcker Rule altogether. If the latest proposal goes through, we’ll be nearly back to where we were before the crash of 2008. more>

Fiscal Policy Remains In The Stone Age

By Simon Wren-Lewis – Or maybe the middle ages, but certainly not anything more recent than the 1920s. Keynes advocated using fiscal expansion in what he called a liquidity trap in the 1930s. Nowadays we use a different terminology, and talk about the need for fiscal expansion when nominal interest rates are stuck at the Zero Lower Bound or Effective Lower Bound.

When monetary policy loses its reliable and effective instrument to manage the economy, you need to bring in the next best reliable and effective instrument: fiscal policy.

The Eurozone as a whole is currently at the effective lower bound. Rates are just below zero and the ECB is creating money for large scale purchases of assets: a monetary policy instrument whose impact is much more uncertain than interest rate changes or fiscal policy changes (but certainly better than nothing). The reason monetary policy is at maximum stimulus setting is that Eurozone core inflation seems stuck at 1% or below. Time, clearly, for fiscal policy to start lending a hand with some fiscal stimulus.

You would think that causing a second recession after the one following the GFC would have been a wake up call for European finance ministers to learn some macroeconomics. Yet what little learning there has been is not to make huge mistakes but only large ones: we should balance the budget when there is no crisis. more>

Recovery is Not Resolution

By Carmen Reinhart – A few days ago, Greece, the most battered of Europe’s crisis countries, was able to tap global financial markets for the first time in years. With a yield of more than 4.6%, Greece’s bonds were enthusiastically snapped up by institutional investors.

Do recent positive developments in the advanced countries, which were at the epicenter of the global financial crisis of 2008, mean that the brutal aftermath of that crisis is finally over?

Good news notwithstanding, declaring victory at this stage (even a decade later) appears premature. Recovery is not the same as resolution.

It may be instructive to recall that in other protracted post-crisis episodes, including the Great Depression of the 1930s, economic recovery without resolution of the fundamental problems of excessive leverage and weak banks usually proved shallow and difficult to sustain.

During the “lost decade” of the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s, Brazil and Mexico had a significant and promising growth pickup in 1984-1985 – before serious problems in the banking sector, an unresolved external debt overhang, and several ill-advised domestic policy initiatives cut those recoveries short. more> https://goo.gl/oQBpm1

Why Wall Street Went Astray: Eight Ways To Humanize Finance

BOOK REVIEW

The Wisdom of Finance: Discovering Humanity in the World of Risk and Return, Author: Mihir Desai.

By Steve Denning – Why did Wall Street go astray?

For most of the last several centuries, bankers and financiers were the pillars of society, the bastions of morality, the people in society that everyone respected.

Yet over the last few decades, Wall Street has become almost a synonym of evil. What went wrong? What can be done to restore the financial sector to the level of respect that it once enjoyed?

For people outside finance: Finance is deeply misunderstood, and we need to make it understandable to people so that they don’t demonize it. The way to do that is not through equations or graphs, but through stories. Finance is central to our lives and ignorance of it is very costly on an individual and societal level.

For people in finance: The core ideas of finance are quite life affirming and very noble — we should make people in finance aspire to them rather than expect so little of them. If finance is going to rehabilitate itself, and I do think it’s broken in many ways, the way to rehabilitate is not through regulation, or outrage, but rather returning to its basic underlying ideas, which are actually quite wonderful. In the long run, that’s how we make finance better — by getting back to the core ideas. more> https://goo.gl/Kr4Mnj

Updates from Chicago Booth

How sales taxes could boost economic growth
By Dee Gill – Many big economies are stagnating, and economists are running out of options to fix them.

The conventional monetary policy for encouraging spending has been to drop short-term interest rates. But with rates already near, at, or below zero, that method is all but exhausted. Some economists have also started to empirically and theoretically question the power of forward guidance, in which central banks publicize plans for future interest-rate policies, at the zero lower bound.

To create the rising prices that fuel higher wages and economic growth, central banks must convince consumers and companies to spend more money. But controversial asset-buying programs that brought down long-term interest rates have not also produced sustained price increases as hoped, and they have inflated central-bank balance sheets.

The idea that the threat of a sales-tax hike might stimulate stagnant economies has been around for some 25 years. But before the researchers homed in on the German VAT increase, economists had not documented such an effect in real life. more> https://goo.gl/exG06C

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In praise of cash

BOOK REVIEW

The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance, Author: Brett Scott.
The Curse of Cash, Author: Kenneth Rogoff.

By Brett Scott – So here I am, the tired individual rationally seeking sugar. The market is before me, fizzy drinks stacked on a shelf, presided over by a vending machine acting on behalf of the cola seller. It’s an obedient mechanical apparatus that is supposed to abide by a simple market contract: If you give money to my owner, I will give you a Coke. So why won’t this goddamn machine enter into this contract with me?

This is market failure.

To understand this failure, we must first understand that we live with two modes of money. ‘Cash’ is the name given to our system of physical tokens that are manually passed on to complete transactions. This first mode of money is public. We might call it ‘state money’. Indeed, we experience cash like a public utility that is ‘just there’.

This second mode of money is essentially private, running off an infrastructure collectively controlled by profit-seeking commercial banks and a host of private payment intermediaries – like Visa and Mastercard – that work with them. The data inscriptions in your bank account are not state money.

Rather, your bank account records private promises issued to you by your bank, promising you access to state money should you wish. Having ‘£500’ in your Barclays account actually means ‘Barclays PLC promises you access to £500’. The ATM network is the main way by which you convert these private bank promises – ‘deposits’ – into the state cash that has been promised to you. The digital payments system, on the other hand, is a way to transfer – or reassign – those bank promises between ourselves.

The cashless society – which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society – is often presented as an inevitability, an outcome of ‘natural progress’. This claim is either naïve or disingenuous. Any future cashless bank-payments society will be the outcome of a deliberate war on cash waged by an alliance of three elite groups with deep interests in seeing it emerge. more> https://goo.gl/KRlMGW

The California Challenge

How (not) to regulate disruptive business models
By Steven Hill – The latest trend from Silicon Valley is known as the “sharing economy,” sometimes referred to as the “gig economy,” “on-demand,” “peer-to-peer” or “collaborative-consumption” economy. Dozens of »disruptive« companies like Uber, Airbnb, Up-work, TaskRabbit, Lyft, Instacart and Postmates have proven to be attractive to consumers and those who would like to “monetize” their personal property (real estate, car) or find flexible, part-time work.

In some ways, these new platforms have the potential to provide new opportunities. But they also display a number of troubling aspects.

With this latest wave of Silicon Valley startup companies, the business model of US corporations is in the process of being redesigned.

The post-Second World War era was dominated by vertical, industrial powerhouses, such as auto companies, in which end-to-end production, design, research, marketing and sales were all performed under a single company roof. Many of these companies – such as GM, Volkswagen, Ford, IBM, Siemens, BMW and Daimler – created a huge number of jobs, numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Today that company model is yielding yet again, to a new one typified by companies such as taxi service Uber, hospitality company Airbnb and labor brokerages Upwork and Task Rabbit. Their precursor was Amazon, which blazed the way for how to market and sell online. These corporations are little more than websites and an app, who utilize technology to oversee an army of freelancers, contractors and part-timers.

The quality of jobs created by many of the Silicon Valley disruptors is also troubling. The business-friendly “happy talk” of Silicon Valley tells us that these new companies are creating new opportunities by allegedly “liberating workers” to become “independent entrepreneurs” and “the CEOs of their own businesses.” In reality, these workers have ever-smaller part-time jobs (called “gigs” and “micro-gigs”), with low wages and no job guarantee or safety net benefits, while the companies profit handsomely.

In short, workers’ labor value is reduced to only those exact minutes they are producing a report, designing a logo or cleaning someone’s house. It’s as if a football star only got paid when kicking a goal or a chef were paid by the meal. In the name of hyper-efficiency, suddenly the “extraneous” parts of a worker’s day, such as rest and bathroom breaks, staff meetings, training, even time at the water cooler are being eliminated. more> https://goo.gl/hMV72j

Finance Is Not the Economy

By Dirk Bezemer and Michael Hudson – To explain the evolution and distribution of wealth and debt in today’s global economy, it is necessary to drop the traditional assumption that the banking system’s major role is to provide credit to finance tangible capital investment in new means of production.

Banks mainly finance the purchase and transfer of property and financial assets already in place.

This distinction between funding “real” versus “financial” capital and real estate implies a “functional differentiation of credit,” which was central to the work of Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Schumpeter. Since the 1980s, the economy has been in a long cycle in which increasing bank credit has inflated prices for real estate, stocks, and bonds, leading borrowers to hope that capital gains will continue. Speculation gains momentum — on credit, so that debts rise almost as rapidly as asset valuations.

When the financial bubble bursts, negative equity spreads as asset prices fall below the mortgages, bonds, and bank loans attached to the property. We are still in the unwinding of the biggest bust yet. This collapse is the inevitable final stage of the “Great Moderation.” more> https://goo.gl/GmDT72

What Trump Didn’t Learn From the Financial Crisis

By Noah Smith – There’s this old idea that what’s good for American companies is good for Americans. But that’s not necessarily true, and it’s certainly not true in the case of financial companies.

One well-known reason is moral hazard. Big banks, with their implicit guarantees of future bailouts, have an incentive to take more risk than is good for society.

Another reason is that sometimes banks and other finance companies use business models that hurt their customers.

Anyone who has studied behavioral finance knows that there are many ways in which the average borrower and the average investor predictably make bad decisions. Taking advantage of these lapses in rationality is the dark side of behavioral finance, and in general it’s perfectly legal.

The 2000s housing bubble provides a fairly clear example. Many mortgage lenders made loans to customers who couldn’t pay them back. The borrowers, not realizing that they couldn’t pay back the loans, suffered negative consequences such as foreclosure, repossession and bankruptcy.

The mortgage lenders sold the loans to banks, thus washing their hands of any of the risks they had created. more> https://goo.gl/WlWsLK