Financial Crisis

Tag: Financial Crisis

Kotlikoff puts the “scare” in “scaricity”

The Globe and Mail has a piece onLaurence Kolikoff’s assessment of the U.S. fiscal situation, and it’s not pretty.  The official estimate is that government debt is about 60% of GDP ($13.5-trillion).  Kotlikoff says “Let’s get real,” and puts the figure at more like $200 trillion.

For those of you that want to go straight to the source, Kotlikoff lays out his case in the IMF publication, Finance & Development.

Wall Street Incentives Have Not Changed

Despite 2,000 + pages of D0dd-Frank legislation and new  Basel III conditions,  NY Times columnist Willam Cohan, author of among other works House of Cards (The Rise and Decline of Bear Stearns), opines that few incentives have changed for the high rollers on Wall Street.  In short, he argues that Wall Street financiers are still playing with everybody else’s money but their own; so “heads I win, tails you lose” effects are still with us.  To cite, Steven Landsburg’s favorite definition of economics: “incentives matter; all else is commentary.”   I encourage you to read the details.

Regime Uncertainty: Did the New Deal End the Great Depression?

There is a continuing debate, as you must know by now, as to whether Keynesian fiscal stimulus is an effective macroeconomic policy tool, especially with the US economy stuck in its current doldrums.  There is probably no bigger detractor to this idea than Robert Higgs of the Independent Institute.  Many on the Keynesian side say the $750 billion fiscal stimulus wasn’t big enough.

Robert Higgs says phooey.

Higgs argues that the whole Keynesian paradigm is out of whack, that, in fact, more robust governmental involvement in times of a crisis creates pervasive uncertainties for the private sector.  This “regime uncertainty,” whether it be from potential tax increases or other regulatory hurdles, shakes investor confidence and stifles capital formation.  Who is going to play a game when the rules of the game are subject to potentially radical change?

Those of you who have taken Economics 240 might recall Higgs’ “ratchet effect,” but he is perhaps better know for this regime uncertainty idea.  Higgs forwarded some of these arguments in the Journal of Economic History, and has recently bolstered it both in the Independent Review. He doesn’t see this as a unifying macro theory, but more as an element that is generally ignored (or ridiculed) by many macro theorists.

You can also catch Higgs talking about these issues with Russ Roberts on EconTalk.

Toxie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Some of you may remember that last year we brought you a link to Toxie Cam , where folks at NPR purchased a so-called “toxic asset” to help them understand the mortgage crisis and the financial crisis more generally. To wit,

We bought Toxie for $1,000 earlier this year. Every month, we get a check. It’s a small piece of the payments people are making on their mortgages. And every month, more houses get foreclosed on and sold off by the bank. When enough houses get sold off by the bank, Toxie will be dead.

Hilarity ensued, of course, when they dedicated a live streaming web feed to a stack of paper, a la the live feed of the BP platform gusher. They went on:

She’s not dead yet — but things are looking grim. Last month, we got $72.41; so far, we’ve received a total of $449. This month, our payment was zero dollars and zero cents. We could still get another payment next month — maybe.

Well, it looks as she’s pretty much dead now, and as the value of the “Toxie” is converging to the paper it’s printed on.  So, in a final hurrah, NPR gives us some back story from before Toxie was toxic. This in includes a rather spectacular aerial photo of a neighborhood that was planned but never developed.

The Toxie Cam was part of an NPR series that seems pretty engaging.   Certainly not the worst thing you’ll read about the financial crisis.

Free Market Monday

The air temperature here in Wisconsin has settled down to humane levels, signaling the school year is nigh. So, to kick off our Free Market Monday, let’s check in with Guy Sorman at the City Journal on the origin of our current financial crisis.

Sorman interviews many of the heavyweights — Calomiris, Fama, Zingales, Cochrane, Taylor, and a host of others (including James Hamilton at EconBrowser, who I’ve never thought of as a “free marketeer”). If you recognize some of those names, it is clear that the emphasis here is mainly on the role of the financial sector.

Some interesting thoughts, including this coda:

Every economist I interviewed agreed that ballooning American and European debt poses a huge threat to long-term prosperity. The debt will be paid either through inflation, which would make everyone poorer, or—a far better scenario—through economic growth that would increase both individual and government revenues. Unfortunately, by increasing taxes and imposing the wrong regulations, Western governments are hindering entrepreneurship and hence growth, Cochrane says.

Ah, entrepreneurship and growth.  It’s all coming back to me now.

Weekend Audio

Some interesting interviews for those of you out cleaning the garage this weekend.

The first is Raghu Rajan, a favorite of Professor Finkler (I’m guessing from this link), in a Vox interview, “Fault lines: how hidden fractures still threaten the world economy.” From the abstract:

Raghuram Rajan of the University of Chicago talks to Romesh Vaitilingam about his new book Fault Lines, in which he outlines the deep systemic problems in the world economy that threaten further financial crises – high US inequality, patched over by easy credit; excessive stimulus to sustain job creation in times of downturn; and the choices of Germany, Japan, and China to focus on export-led growth rather than domestic consumption. The interview was recorded in London in July 2010.

The second is a favorite of mine, Political Scientist David Brady, over at EconTalk.

David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the electorate and what current and past political science have to say about the upcoming midterm elections. Drawing on his own survey work and that of others, Brady uses current opinion polls to predict a range of likely outcomes in the House and Senate in November. He then discusses the role of recent health care legislation in the upcoming election as well as Obama’s approval ratings. The conversation concludes with Brady’s assessment of how Congress might deal with the demographic challenge facing entitlement programs.

Brady has a good sense of politics and political history, in addition to being an excellent social scientist. In my policy making institutions course at Carnegie Mellon, I used Brady & Volden’s Revolving Gridlock as an introduction to a simple spatial model and an overview of the past 40 years of American politics (Just don’t tell Professor Hixon).

And, I buried the lead here.  Laurie Santos talks about monkey decision making over at TED.  Who knew monkeys were so irrational? She does some monkey experiments and finds that monkeys consistently make the types of “irrational” errors that humans make.

Laurie Santos looks for the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. A clever series of experiments in “monkeynomics” shows that some of the silly choices we make, monkeys make too.

I coined the tag “monkeynomics,” not realizing that there actually was monkeynomics.  Click on the tag for more monkey business.

Partial Financial Regulation

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki claims the financial reform bill pending in Congress has some real teeth, yet somehow it exempts a major chuck of the consumer credit market — auto dealers.

There are close to eight hundred and fifty billion dollars’ worth of auto loans outstanding in the U.S.—about as much as our total credit-card debt—and car dealers broker about eighty per cent of them. Since the central task of the new consumer financial-protection agency is to oversee the market for consumer credit, which has become something of a cesspool in recent years, it would have been natural for car dealers to fall under its jurisdiction. Instead, the dealers won a special exemption: the agency can’t touch them.

Now that’s an interesting.

Do you buy his explanation for why car dealers succeeded in dodging where others failed? Not everyone agrees.

Gambling on the Economy

I saw an interesting bit over at Bloomberg Businessweek about how to think about the trajectory.  It’s colorful, gangsta-esque title is “Krugman or Paulson: Who You Gonna Bet On?” On the one hand, you have Paul Krugman warning of a depression without very tall cash-on-the-barrelhead government spending monetary outlays.  On the other, you have billionaire Henry Paulson literally putting his money on a recovery:

Paulson’s latest 13f filing with the Securities & Exchange Commission indicates nearly $2.995 billion of Bank of America common stock and $2.052 billion of Citigroup common. Despite healthy advances from their spring 2009 lows, banks may have more room to run, particularly if Paulson is correct in the estimate he made to investors that housing prices will rise as much as 10 percent next year.

Since his initial forays in banks, Paulson has ventured into riskier assets like casino stocks and vacant residential land in the utterly busted Florida and Southern California markets. As a private hedge fund manager, Paulson is not obliged to provide a complete picture of his investments; long positions could be hedged with shorts and derivatives that he does not have to divulge. But nothing in either his statements or reports about what he’s buying suggests he is anything less than upbeat about the economy right now.

I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison, because Paulson is simply betting on certain sectors, some of which benefit handsomely from government policies.  So his bets don’t necessarily represent a “stimulus v. no stimulus” type of comparison.

What is it about people wanting to bet Krugman? Last year, in what New York Magazine hailed as “the nerdiest bet ever,” Greg Mankiw threw down and bet Krugman about the administration’s GDP forecast.

Paul Krugman suggests that my skepticism about the administration’s growth forecast over the next few years is somehow “evil.” Well, Paul, if you are so confident in this forecast, would you like to place a wager on it and take advantage of my wickedness?

Who knew economists could be so catty?

Political Economy of Regulation, Final Exam Question

With new financial regulations (potentially, yes, potentially) imminent, today’s question is why Congress is delegating so much of the authority to regulators to craft the actual rules of governance:

Consumer and financial lobbyists alike are marshalling the troops on K Street to impact the decisions regulators make in setting new rules after Congress finished writing the Dodd-Frank Act on Friday. The 2,000-page financial overhaul bill is expected to face a final vote this week, but despite its length, it leaves many specific directives to regulators. Regulators are left with the freedom to decide what kinds of trading are included in the prohibition against banks’ investment of their own money and “how much money banks have to set aside against unexpected losses.”

Now, the first question is, why would Congress delegate so much authority? Is it in deference to regulators’ superior knowledge? Or do you think it has something to do with not taking responsibility? Or do you have another explanation?

The second question has to do with the relationship between industry and regulators. If you believe in the capture theory (and many of you do), what type of explanation would you give for delegation? And, what sort of outcomes might you expect from this round of legislative reform?

Wait, the term is over? What?

Eyes on the Demise

James Hamilton at Econbrowser has a post, similar to one here, about difficulties regulating amidst rapid innovation. The cases of note were the disastrous Gulf spill on the one hand, and the disastrous financial meltdown on the other.

With the help of modern technology, we can now keep an eye on both.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, BP has a live feed up to its gusher, providing a continuous video feed from a mile under the sea.

Where did they get that idea, I wonder?

Perhaps from NPR Planet Money’s round-the-clock coverage of their own “toxic asset” via Toxie Cam.  Here’s just a taste of some screenshots from their thrilling live feed:

And here’s the back story:

We bought Toxie for $1,000 earlier this year. Every month, we get a check. It’s a small piece of the payments people are making on their mortgages. And every month, more houses get foreclosed on and sold off by the bank. When enough houses get sold off by the bank, Toxie will be dead.

She’s not dead yet — but things are looking grim.

Last month, we got $72.41; so far, we’ve received a total of $449.

This month, our payment was zero dollars and zero cents. We could still get another payment next month — maybe.

So, it looks like the toxic asset really was toxic, with a payout of less than 50 cents on the dollar. On the other hand, that seems to be about what my 401K has been doing.

At any rate, video technology is clearly making the world a better place.

EconTalk of the Town

Several blogs that I read have pointed to Russ Roberts’ new essay on the financial crisis, Gambling with Other People’s Money.   This from the Executive Summary:

I argue that public-policy decisions have perverted the incentives that naturally create stability in financial markets and the market for housing. Over the last three decades, government policy has coddled creditors, reducing the risk they face from financing bad investments. Not surprisingly, this encouraged risky investments financed by borrowed money. The increasing use of debt mixed with housing policy, monetary policy, and tax policy crippled the housing market and the financial sector. Wall Street is not blameless in this debacle. It lobbied for the policy decisions that created the mess.

In the United States we like to believe we are a capitalist society based on individual responsibility. But we are what we do. Not what we say we are. Not what we wish to be. But what we do. And what we do in the United States is make it easy to gamble with other people’s money—particularly borrowed money—by making sure that almost everybody who makes bad loans gets his money back anyway. The financial crisis of 2008 was a natural result of these perverse incentives. We must return to the natural incentives of profit and loss if we want to prevent future crises.

Roberts, of course, is the voice of EconTalk, a principal at Cafe Hayek, and one of the brains behind the Keynes v. Hayek video.  So, my guess is that this will have some elements of a “government failure” story.