Archive for the ‘Financial Reform’ Category

Needed Macro Policies: Targeted, Broad, and Universal

Greg Hannsgen | January 30, 2015

The recent 40 percent jump in the value of the Swiss Franc will have some effects similar to those of deflation where it seems to be taking hold, including Japan and much of Europe. When a currency increases in value, foreign debts in those currencies become more of a burden. The New York Times brings it home with the story of households in Poland and other European countries who have some foreign debt of their own—mortgages whose payments are suddenly much higher in their own currency, after the Swiss National Bank (the Swiss counterpart to the ECB and the Fed) stopped using foreign-currency operations to peg its currency against the Euro. In fact, the FT reports that mortgages in the Swiss currency make up 37 percent of Polish home loans. The Swiss decision was encouraged by a European Central Bank that is getting ready to push long-term interest rates down further through its own program of quantitative easing (QE). Instead of printing more Francs to buy Euro and other currency, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) allowed the Franc to rise in one big move, abandoning its peg to the depreciating Euro. This move will increase import demand in Switzerland from Poland and other European producers. But as always with a sudden devaluation, foreign-currency debtors suffer from a so-called currency mismatch problem as the amount of debt rises in terms of the things that they sell to make a living, including hours of labor.

Exchange rate pegs are difficult to maintain for an extended period, especially in relatively poor countries, as changing economic conditions cause misalignments in exchange rates. One reason not to institute a peg is the instability that can ensue when it is abandoned, and this instability can cause penury for debtors, including governments. A second bad policy is interest rates that that need to be reduced generally by the monetary policy authorities where possible. One policy approach is to target help at the debtors themselves, particularly households and countries that must be helped up to maintain autonomy. The latter include Greece, for which our Greek macro team recently suggested an interest-payment moratorium. Sometimes, a reduction in the amount owed, or principal, is in order, as it was —and probably still is—for many subprime and Alt-A (mid-range credit rating) borrowers affected by the US mortgage crisis. Eastern European countries debated converting Swiss mortgages into domestic-currency debts at a higher-than-market domestic exchange rate. A slightly less-targeted form of help is to implement jobs programs of various types and to hold the line on public-sector wages. But when unemployment and other economic indicators suggest stagnation if anything, such targeted policy stimulus helps, yet it has only an indirect impact on private investment, overall economic growth, and unmet infrastructure, poverty-reduction, and pension needs.

The ECB is smart to implement QE, given high rates of unemployment in almost every country in the Eurozone. The SNB may even be smart to allow its currency to rise, given strong economic performance. And by the same token, if the Polish government can broadly raise spending, increasing resources for budget items that encourage economic growth and inflation is under control (2 percent—one common benchmark—is rather low for a target, especially given high unemployment), it should do so. Monetary stimulus might also form part of the picture. With such a move, the government would take steps in the same direction as the ECB and the Japanese government, recognizing the threat of  debt deflation.

Generally, the a combination of the three types of policy outlined here would work effectively in many countries with high unemployment, weak growth, and large amounts of bad private-sector debt. Targeted help for borrowers can take many forms, but writing off a portion of the principal, with the central bank’s help, if necessary, is often the only way to avert widespread private-sector bankruptcies. In contrast, broad measures might include, for example, devaluations of the domestic currency, investments in infrastructure and R&D, wide-ranging open-market purchases, tax cuts, and other available measures to spur all sectors of the economy. Third, universal measures—programs available to all who meet eligibility criteria—would include Social Security and its counterparts in affected countries. (An employer-of-last resort, or ELR, program would fit within both universal and targeted categories.) It is more risky rather than less not to maintain such programs during a crisis.

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Mission-Oriented Finance (Video)

Michael Stephens | September 10, 2014

The following clips are from the Mission-Oriented Finance for Innovation conference held in London, organized by Mariana Mazzucato as part of a research project with L. Randall Wray on “Financing Innovation.”

L. Randall Wray, “Financing the Capital Development of the Economy: A Keynes-Schumpeter-Minsky Synthesis” (slides)

 

Pavlina Tcherneva, “Full Employment, Value Creation and the Public Purpose” (slides)

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A New Book on Money to Please Fans of Minsky and MMT

Greg Hannsgen | August 12, 2014

Opinions heard on the subject of money and the economy often seem uninformed or absurd. For a great book about money and monetary theory, I would strongly recommend Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin, a 2014 book from Alfred A. Knopf. This book might just please students of history and finance and others who might already be familiar with one theory or another about the origins of money and ways of managing a monetary system. These and other readers might benefit from a readable account of these theories up to the current time and what they might have to say about the recent financial crisis and its roots in theory and practice.

Martin is critical of mainstream finance as well as orthodox macroeconomics, and friendly to points of view related to Hyman Minsky’s financial fragility hypothesis and other truly monetary forms of economics. The latter were introduced to the civilized world by John Maynard Keynes, Bagehot, Wynne Godley, James Tobin, our own Randy Wray, and others sometimes mentioned in this blog. But as the new book shows, their intellectual roots in monetary thought go deeper into the centuries. Martin’s accounts seems fair all around. I think it will be one of those books that offers almost everyone who reads it something surprising and of interest.  Nonetheless, the book is one of those many signs of widespread recognition that Keynes’s monetary production theory and related points of view offer a vantage point that the mainstream missed, helping to bring on the financial crisis. It is a fascinating and lucid read.

(By the way, the New York Times Book Review ran a favorable review earlier this year in an edition that covered many titles related to the theme of money–some not so good.)

As you may have guessed, I have been doing some reading of new books from a summer trip to my local bookstore and hope to get to more of them in posts in the near future.

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It’s Official: Too Big to Fail Is Alive and Well

L. Randall Wray | August 6, 2014

Thank heaven for Tom Hoenig, the only proven-honest central banker we’ve got. Yes, I know he’s moved on from the KC Fed to serve as Vice Chairman of the FDIC. He actually might do a lot more good over there, anyway.

In recent months, we’ve heard how Wall Street’s Blood-sucking Vampire Squids have reformed themselves. They no longer pose any danger to our economy. They’ve written “living wills” that describe how they’ll safely bury themselves without Uncle Sam’s help next time they implode.

You see, it doesn’t matter that they remain big—indeed, the biggest behemoths are much bigger than they were before they caused the last Global Financial Crisis. They are no longer “too big to fail” because they’ve all got plans to unwind their dangerous positions when stuff hits the fan.

This is very important to Wall Street and Washington because Dodd-Frank requires downsizing and simplification of the Vampire Squids if they remain a threat.

Big financial institutions that are highly interconnected can cause a relatively small problem with one bank’s assets to snowball into a national and international crisis that forces Uncle Sam to intervene to bail-out the miscreants.

We know that the biggest half-dozen US banks are huge and have highly interconnected balance sheets. We know they have legacy garbage on their balance sheets, and they are creating massive quantities of new trashy assets every day they remain open.

That’s their business model. They love that model because it enriches a handful of top management at each institution. As Bill Black says, these are run as control frauds—their motto is “Frauds R Us.” Nearly every day one of them gets caught red-handed in yet another fraud. They pay peanuts in fines and go about their fraudulent business. Nice work if you can get it.

So it is critical that each of these demonstrate it has a way to disconnect its balance sheet from the others as it oversees its own demise. Otherwise, these institutions would have to be downsized and their frauds curtailed.

As expected, most government officials have been congratulating themselves and Wall Street’s “finest” for the “heckuva job, Brownie” they’ve been doing in writing those living wills. continue reading…

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Predatory Capitalism and Where to Go from Here

C. J. Polychroniou | July 23, 2014

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy that revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism, and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.[1] As such, the landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.[2]

On the Links between Financialization, Neoliberalism, and Globalization

The three pillars on which contemporary predatory capitalism is structured—financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization—need to be understood on the basis of a structural connectivity model, although it is rather incorrect to reduce one to the other. Let me explain.

The surge of financial capital long predates the current neoliberal era, and the financialization of the economy takes place independently of neoliberalism, although it is greatly enhanced by the weakening of regulatory regimes and the collusion between finance capital and political officials that prevails under the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy. Thus, challenging neoliberalism—a task of herculean proportions given than virtually every aspect of the economy and of the world as a whole, from schools to the workplace and from post offices to the IMF, functions today on the basis of neoliberal premises—does not necessarily imply a break with the financialization processes under way in contemporary capitalist economies. Financialization needs to be tackled on its own terms, possibly with alternative finance systems and highly interventionist policies, which include the nationalization of banks, rather than through regulation alone. In any case, what is definitely needed in order to constrain the destructive aspects of financial capitalism is what the late American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky referred to as “big government.” We shall return to Minsky later in the analysis. continue reading…

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Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark: The Rise of Monetary Cranks and Fixing What Ain’t Broke

L. Randall Wray | June 30, 2014

Horatio:  He waxes desperate with imagination.

Marcellus:  Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.

Horatio:  Have after. To what issue will this come?

Marcellus:  Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Horatio:  Heaven will direct it.

Marcellus:  Nay, let’s follow him.

 Hamlet Act 1, scene 4

Marcellus is right, the Fish of Finance is rotting from the head down. It stinks. As Hamlet remarked earlier in the play, Denmark is “an unweeded garden” of “things rank and gross in nature” (Act 1, scene 2). The ghost of the dead king appears to Hamlet, beckoning him to follow. In scene 5, the ghost tells Hamlet just how rotten things really are.

Denmark, is of course Wall Street or London. Far more rotten than anyone can imagine.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, we all wax “desperate with imagination,” looking for explanation. For solution. For retribution!

The financial system is rotten. Our banking regulators and supervisors failed us in the run-up to the crisis, they failed us in the response to the crisis, and they are failing us in the reform that we expected in the aftermath of the crisis.

Heaven will not save us, either. The Invisible Hand is impotent. Just wait for Scene 5!

In times like these, we thrash about, desperate for ideas, for imagination, for leadership. There’s nothing unusual about that. Read the entry, monetary cranks, by David Clark in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, First Edition, 1987, Edited by John Eatwell, Murray Milgate and Peter Newman.

You’ll find many of the same proffered reforms bandied about now. Many of them make sense, or at least partial sense. I’ve always used that entry in my money and banking courses as an example of sensible ideas being rejected by the mainstream, labeled “crank” to discredit them.

When I use the term monetary cranks, I use it as a term of endearment. We need some cranky ideas because all the respectable ones failed us. continue reading…

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End of Week Links 6/27/2014

Michael Stephens | June 27, 2014

Ann Pettifor, “Out of thin air — Why banks must be allowed to create money

“In his regular column, Martin Wolf called for private banks to be stripped of their power to create money. Wolf’s proposals are radical, and would give a small committee – independent of the state – a monopoly on money creation. … Furthermore, Wolf argues, private commercial banks would only be allowed to: ‘…loan money actually invested by customers. They would be stopped from creating such accounts out of thin air and so would become the intermediaries that many wrongly believe they now are.’

Because I am a vocal critic of the private finance sector, many assume that I would agree with Wolf and Positive Money on nationalising money creation. Not so. I have no objection to the nationalisation of banks. But nationalising banks is a different proposition from nationalising (and centralising) money creation in the hands of a small ‘independent committee’. Indeed, the notion to my mind is preposterous. It is an approach reminiscent of the misguided and failed monetarist policy prescriptions for controlling the money supply in the 1980s. Second, the proposal that only money already saved should be made available for lending assumes that money exists as a consequence of economic activity, and equals savings. But that is to get things the wrong way around.”

Related: Jan Kregel, “Minsky and the Narrow Banking Proposal: No Solution for Financial Reform

Jayati Ghosh, “Locking Out Financial Regulation

“This agreement [the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA)] is apparently supposed to be “classified” information – in other words, secret and unknown to the public that will be affected by it – for a full five years after it … enters into force or the negotiations are terminated!

That an international treaty that has binding and enforceable obligations can be treated as secret for five years after it comes into force is not only bizarre but almost unthinkable. The need for such secrecy would be inexplicable even if such agreements were actually in the interests of people whose governments are involved in such negotiations. That secrecy is sought would on its own be reason for concern, but the little that has been leaked out of the state of the negotiations suggests even more reasons for alarm, especially because such a deal would have far-reaching implications for financial stability and adversely affect everyone in the world.”

J. W. Mason, “Where Do Interest Rates Come From?

“What determines the level of interest rates? It seems like a simple question, but I don’t think economics — orthodox or heterodox — has an adequate answer.”

Noah Smith, “What I learned in econ grad school

“… this was back before the financial crisis, at the tail end of the unfortunately named “Great Moderation.” When the big crisis happened, I quickly realized that nothing I had learned in my first-year course could help me explain what I was seeing on the news. Given my dim view of the standards of verification and usefulness to which the theories I knew had been subjected, I was not surprised.”

Eric Schliesser, “Milton Piketty

“Piketty is the true heir of Milton Friedman. This claim might seem perverse if one focuses on policy. But if one looks at (a) methodology, and, crucially, (b) the conception of what economics might be about, ultimately, then Piketty’s book is an attempt to return economics to an approach that was never really dominant, but that can be book-ended between Adam Smith’s Digression on Silver (or Hume’s population essay) and Friedman’s (1963) Monetary History.”

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Minsky and Financial Reform’s “Never Ending” Struggle

Michael Stephens | April 18, 2014

In a new policy brief, Jan Kregel looks at a lesser-known, early period of Minsky’s work on financial reform. In the ’60s, Minsky was a consultant to a number of government agencies, including the Federal Reserve, on issues related to financial regulation. In this context, he came up with a new approach to bank examination, which he called “cash-flow based.” The new approach evaluated bank liquidity, not as an innate feature of a particular class of assets, but as a function of the balance sheet of the institutions under examination, the markets for those assets, the state of the macroeconomy and the financial system as a whole, and much else. In fact, as Kregel explains, what Minsky was after here was related to an early form of what we now call “macroprudential regulation.”

The evolution of Minsky’s thought on this approach to bank examination is interesting enough in itself, but it’s also a reflection of Minsky’s broader thinking about financial regulation and reform. Minsky developed his regulatory proposals in the ’60s and ’70s with an eye to what was to become his well-known “financial instability hypothesis,” which is to say, his proposals were informed by a theory of endogenous financial instability: a theory in which financial crises are not only possible, but are to be expected; generated as a result of the “normal” functioning of the financial system. Without such a theory, as Kregel points out, it’s hard to formulate effective regulation:

As Minsky was fond of pointing out, the bedrock of mainstream theory is a system of self-adjusting equilibrium that provides little scope for the discussion of a systemic crisis, since, in this theory, one could not occur. It was thus extremely difficult to formulate prudential regulations to respond to a financial crisis if one could only occur as the result of random, external shocks, or what Alan Greenspan would consider idiosyncratic, nonrational (fraudulent) behavior. The only basis for regulation would be to concentrate on the eradication of the disruptive behavior of bad actors or mismanaged financial institutions. From this initial presumption, the formulation of regulations and supervisory procedures required the assessment of the activities of individual banks—without any reference to their relations with other institutions or the overall environment in which they functioned.

One consequence of being informed by a proper theory of financial instability, Minsky maintained, is that regulation has to be responsive to innovations in the financial system; innovations that are often reactions to new regulatory frameworks. What this calls for, then, is not just the right set of rules, whether your preferred model is Glass-Steagall or something else, but also an adaptive, “dynamic” framework that’s attuned to the evolution of the financial system. This is from the preface:

the challenge for reform is not just the proper formulation and implementation of specific rules, but the development of an approach that is sensitive to the potential of actors in the financial system to adapt and innovate, creating new practices that threaten the stability of the system in ways that may not become apparent until the next crisis hits. Financial regulation and examination procedures need to be constantly reassessed in order to avoid becoming obsolete. And in that sense, as Minsky recognized, “the quest to get money and finance right may be a never ending struggle.”

There’s a lot more here, including Kregel’s take on the ongoing debates about imposing specific capital and liquidity ratios on financial institutions:

While the imposition of minimum liquidity and capital ratios is an improvement over the prior risk-based approach, such target ratios are not macroprudential regulations in Minsky’s sense. Similarly, stress tests of banks’ capital positions are applied to banks individually, rather than in a systemic interaction. Neither approach to macroprudential regulation takes into account the dynamic macro factors that impact the bank’s position-making assets and liabilities and the secondary markets in which they trade, or the ongoing institutional and policy changes that are a natural part of the economic system.

Download it here: “Minsky and Dynamic Macroprudential Regulation

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A Minsky Moment on the BBC

Michael Stephens | April 1, 2014

For those of you who haven’t seen it already, Duncan Weldon did a feature on Hyman Minsky for the BBC last week, including this short article and a 30-minute piece for BBC radio.

In the radio segment, Adair Turner says this about Minsky’s contribution and his departure from the mainstream (a description of the pre-crisis orthodoxy which is probably baffling to many unfamiliar with the field):

“The dominant strain of modern economics had assumed, before the crisis, that you could largely ignore the details of the financial system and banks in particular. The phrase that was used was that finance was simply a sort of veil through which relationships between savers and borrowers passed and it didn’t have an influence, and at the … core of Minsky’s analysis is the fact that financing contracts and banks in particular have a crucial influence.”

Weldon devotes a great deal of the program to the “financial instability hypothesis,” for which Minsky is, perhaps, best known, but Minsky also offered an approach to re-regulating the financial system that makes his work as useful as a prescription for a more stable capitalism as it is as a diagnosis of financial crises. (The Levy Institute’s short ebook, Beyond the Minsky Moment (pdf), includes a survey of Minsky’s views about how to reconstitute the financial structure and explains why Dodd-Frank falls well short. The Minsky archive has also been digitized to provide access to many of Minsky’s unpublished papers and notes.)

The annual conference inspired by Minsky’s work will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC next week.

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Minsky Conference, D.C.: Stabilizing Financial Systems for Growth and Full Employment

Michael Stephens | March 13, 2014

The Levy Institute’s annual Minsky conference will be held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 9-10.

Day one features a speaker lineup that includes Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, head of the Chicago Fed Charles Evans, member of the Fed Board of Governors Daniel Tarullo, and many others. On day two, Jason Furman, Chair of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers (and recently featured in this Washington Post profile), asks “Is the Great Moderation Coming Back?”

The full conference program is online. Session titles include:

Financial Reregulation to Support Growth and Employment

Financial Regulation and Economic Stability: Was Dodd-Frank Enough, or Too Much?

The Global Growth and Employment Outlook: Cloudy with a Risk of … ?

The Euro and European Growth and Employment Prospects

What Are the Monetary Constraints to Sustainable Recovery of Employment?

Registration is open.

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