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December 25, 2008

Another one frim Martin Wolf

The best newspaper economy writer I know....for those who like economy remember, every wednesday on the FT

Keynes offers us the best way to think about the financial crisis

By Martin Wolf

Published: December 23 2008 18:06 | Last updated: December 23 2008 18:06

We are all Keynesians now. When Barack Obama takes office he will propose a gigantic fiscal stimulus package. Such packages are being offered by many other governments. Even Germany is being dragged, kicking and screaming, into this race.

The ghost of John Maynard Keynes, the father of macroeconomics, has returned to haunt us. With it has come that of his most interesting disciple, Hyman Minsky. We all now know of the “Minsky moment” – the point at which a financial mania turns into panic.

Like all prophets, Keynes offered ambiguous lessons to his followers. Few still believe in the fiscal fine-tuning that his disciples propounded in the decades after the second world war. But nobody believes in the monetary targeting proposed by his celebrated intellectual adversary, Milton Friedman, either. Now, 62 years after Keynes’ death, in another era of financial crisis and threatened economic slump, it is easier for us to understand what remains relevant in his teaching.

I see three broad lessons.

The first, which was taken forward by Minsky, is that we should not take the pretensions of financiers seriously. “A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.” Not for him, then, was the notion of “efficient markets”.

The second lesson is that the economy cannot be analysed in the same way as an individual business. For an individual company, it makes sense to cut costs. If the world tries to do so, it will merely shrink demand. An individual may not spend all his income. But the world must do so.

The third and most important lesson is that one should not treat the economy as a morality tale. In the 1930s, two opposing ideological visions were on offer: the Austrian; and the socialist. The Austrians – Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek – argued that a purging of the excesses of the 1920s was required. Socialists argued that socialism needed to replace failed capitalism, outright. These views were grounded in alternative secular religions: the former in the view that individual self-seeking behaviour guaranteed a stable economic order; the latter in the idea that the identical motivation could lead only to exploitation, instability and crisis.

Keynes’s genius – a very English one – was to insist we should approach an economic system not as a morality play but as a technical challenge. He wished to preserve as much liberty as possible, while recognising that the minimum state was unacceptable to a democratic society with an urbanised economy. He wished to preserve a market economy, without believing that laisser faire makes everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

This same moralistic debate is with us, once again. Contemporary “liquidationists” insist that a collapse would lead to rebirth of a purified economy. Their leftwing opponents argue that the era of markets is over. And even I wish to see the punishment of financial alchemists who claimed that ever more debt turns economic lead into gold.

Yet Keynes would have insisted that such approaches are foolish. Markets are neither infallible nor dispensable. They are indeed the underpinnings of a productive economy and individual freedom. But they can also go seriously awry and so must be managed with care. The election of Mr Obama surely reflects a desire for just such pragmatism. Neither Ron Paul, the libertarian, nor Ralph Nader, on the left, got anywhere. So the task for this new administration is to lead the US and the world towards a pragmatic resolution of the global economic crisis we all now confront.

The urgent task is to return the world economy to health.

The shorter-term challenge is to sustain aggregate demand, as Keynes would have recommended. Also important will be direct central-bank finance of borrowers. It is evident that much of the load will fall on the US, largely because the Europeans, Japanese and even the Chinese are too inert, too complacent, or too weak. Given the correction of household spending under way in the deficit countries, this period of high government spending is, alas, likely to last for years. At the same time, a big effort must be made to purge the balance sheets of households and the financial system. A debt-for-equity swap is surely going to be necessary.

The longer-term challenge is to force a rebalancing of global demand. Deficit countries cannot be expected to spend their way into bankruptcy, while surplus countries condemn as profligacy the spending from which their exporters benefit so much. In the necessary attempt to reconstruct the global economic order, on which the new administration must focus, this will be a central issue. It is one Keynes himself had in mind when he put forward his ideas for the postwar monetary system at the Bretton Woods conference in 1944.

No less pragmatic must be the attempt to construct a new system of global financial regulation and an approach to monetary policy that curbs credit booms and asset bubbles. As Minsky made clear, no permanent answer exists. But recognition of the systemic frailty of a complex financial system would be a good start.

As was the case in the 1930s, we also have a choice: it is to deal with these challenges co-operatively and pragmatically or let ideological blinkers and selfishness obstruct us. The objective is also clear: to preserve an open and at least reasonably stable world economy that offers opportunity to as much of humanity as possible. We have done a disturbingly poor job of this in recent years. We must do better. We can do so, provided we approach the task in a spirit of humility and pragmatism, shorn of ideological blinkers

As Oscar Wilde might have said, in economics, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. That is, for me, the biggest lesson of this crisis. It is also the one Keynes himself still teaches.

November 14, 2008

More learning from the PMA, Credit crunch, Financial Services and Globalization

Continuing from the previous post. Some thoughts that came to me while writing the PMA. I wrote about financial services. The connection between globalisation (and I`m not crazy about that word, because the world has always been globalised, I think we should use something like Hyper-Globalisation to make explicit that we are talking about the increase, the strengthening of something that has always been there) and financial services is clear. And by understanding it it gives us a different vision of the current crisis.

The moment now is very similar to the burst of the bubble that happened on 1929 (even though its being treated in a very different way and hopefully it will also end in a very different way, but only time will tell). After a moment of irrational exuberance (fantastic expression created by the former president of the American Central Bank, the FED, Alan Greenspan to describe the dot ".com"  bubble of the 1990's/early 2000's) the markets went burst and so it was decided that they should be much more regulated. Exactly the same as know. Well, we all know economical growth does not follows a clear pattern. It is made (pretty much as life itself) of moments of quick growth, that generates bubbles, that burst, theres some learning, some pain, that will be followed by growth in new ways, resulting in new bubbles, new burst, pain, and so forth. That`s the way it goes, and that`s the way it will go again know. When we are under pain, it looks eternal, but usually the growing years, the pleasure ones are longer and more significative over time. But we just realise it from an outside look.

That brings me to another point. We are now complaining, throwing stones, shouting, crying and screaming over credit decisions, greed, high salaries, etc etc. Of course no one likes the idea of going through the stress, the worries of a crisis like that because a few VERY WELL paid guys committed mistakes. But looking back, this crisis was built along many, many years of very cheap credit, of innovative financial products that allowed lot`s of people buying houses, cars, trips, ipods, laptops, etc etc. By doing so they also generated lot`s of jobs. What I`m trying to say is that for many many years, all the world gained from the schemes, the ideas of that same people. I don`t think anyone complained when we had the lowest  long term interest rates for for many years, or when we found very easy credit to buy a car that we always wanted, or when a company got a nice loan, built a factory and got us a job. It`s a bit about complaining that the car broke in the middle of the road after we`ve been using it for 100.000 Km! Well, happiness is not forever, every system, every process, every cycle needs to be constantly changed and improved and in such a complex system as the global economy it`s very hard not to have some problems once ina while.

What I`m trying to say is not that we should do nothing and accept it the way it came, but that we should try to look at it from the outside and understand that this is how things work. That same system that brought as the problem was the one who gave us plenty of solutions, that we were also benefited in the good years (and we had quite a lot of good years , the global economy has been through one of its best moments in the last decades). And the guys who created, as bad or greedy as hey can be, were also responsible to it. Is a certain sense, is a bit like creating a revolutionary car. If one creates a car that runs on water, and that by taking one litre of water will go for 100 Km and it looks wonderful on theory everyone will want one. If after a few years we find this car just stops working in the middle of nowhere after a while we are going to be pissed, but we should remember how good this car was. every new product is a bit avant-garde and has inherent problems in it that will be fixed along the way. And when you are talking about financial products is even worse, because there are no labs, traditional scientific methods that would allow experimentations, you can not experiment on social sciences...

Of course a better regulatory system, perhaps and more concious managenemtn, a system that payd more attention to variations and the long term (Ok, thaks Deming!) would have been usefull, but it is important to look all that came with that experience, and not only a few people and a especific moment of it.

October 31, 2008

Another one about the crediy crunch

I took that one from today`s Financial Times. Great article, not so easy as the other one, more technical but very enlightening...

What the British authorities should try now

By Martin Wolf

Published: October 30 2008 19:31 | Last updated: October 30 2008 19:31

The UK is in recession. The estimate of a decline of 0.5 per cent in the third quarter, after stagnation in the second quarter, ends the debate. This is the beginning of a lengthy and, quite possibly, deep recession. How long and how deep? The answer depends on what the authorities do.

This is the moment at which David Blanchflower, an external member of the monetary policy committee and professor of economics at Dartmouth College in the US, is entitled to say “I told you so”. Prof Blanchflower has voted for a cut on every occasion since October 2007. In retrospect, he was right to push strongly in this direction, usually against majority opinion on the MPC. His views on the economy deserve respect now.

Prof Blanchflower laid them out this week in aspeech delivered, quite appropriately, at Keynes College, University of Kent*. In this, to his credit, he avoids crowing too loudly. His principal points are that, first, the UK economy is likely to follow a downward path similar to that of the US; second, the risks of a sustained rise in inflationary expectations are non-existent; and, finally, the consequences of “constrained credit conditions” on an economy with rapidly declining asset prices are likely to prove devastating.

Thursday’s report from Nationwide that house prices dropped 14.6 per cent in the year to October underlines the last danger. Prof Blanchflower also relies on his experience as a labour economist to argue that the risks of a pass-through of higher prices of imports to price expectations were always small. Now, with collapsing commodity prices and the onset of the recession, the danger is falling prices, instead. Despite unprecedented recent intervention by governments, led by the UK, further tightening of credit has occurred. Even Charles Bean, deputy governor of the Bank of England for monetary policy, describes what is happening as “possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history”.

So what is to be done? The starting point has to be monetary policy. My increasingly strong view is that the MPC must, at this juncture, rethink its stance from scratch. It cannot make sense for US rates to be at 1 per cent, while the UK’s are 4.5 per cent. In present circumstances, I would like to see UK rates down to 2.5 per cent.

Obviously, there is some risk of a further sterling collapse. In current circumstances, this has to be ignored. In fact, determined action may strengthen sterling, not weaken it. In his Mais lecture on Wednesday, Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the exchequer, helpfully gave the MPC the green light to ignore short-term inflation overshoots. He went out of his way, instead, to stress that the Bank enjoys “discretion about the horizon over which inflation is brought back to target”.**

So long as the Bank enjoys room to cut interest rates, it seems unnecessary to take any large discretionary fiscal actions, particularly since the fiscal position is sure to look ghastly. The chancellor states rightly that “to increase borrowing in a downturn is sensible”. He is right, too, to argue that the UK’s stock of debt is low by the standards of large high-income countries. But the deficits are large and sure to become far larger. Against this background, the absence of a clear strategy for returning to a more sustainable position in the medium term is a worry. Such a strategy is promised for the forthcoming pre-Budget report. It must be good. The UK cannot presume indefinitely on the patience of its creditors.

Both the Bank and the Treasury will also need to examine what they would do if official interest rates fell to zero. This looks highly likely for the US and is conceivable for the UK. That would be the moment for “helicopter money”, with cash sprayed around like confetti.

More pressing than discretionary fiscal action is getting the banks to lend. This is why they have been helped, in the first place. Unfortunately, their marginal cost of funds, plus required margins, is above rates they are expected to charge. This is why sharp cuts in official intervention rates are vital. Beyond that, the government may be forced to encourage direct lending by the Bank of England to large non-financial corporations or to offer temporary partial guarantees of loans to small businesses or households. The government must also understand that it may have to recapitalise the banks again. What is being raised so far is some 1 per cent of the combined assets of the principal banks. As the crisis unfolds, the needs could prove far bigger than that.

These are historic times. Given the origins of the crisis in the collapse of an asset price bubble and consequent disintegration of the credit mechanism, the way the recession will evolve remains obscure. The authorities must now focus all their attention on reducing its likely scale. But then they must ask themselves how such a gigantic mess occurred. On this the Mais lecture is silent. Yet every important safeguard failed. A government in power since 1997 cannot ignore this grim truth forever.

* Where next for the UK economy?; **

October 27, 2008

Keynes and the credit crunch

For those who like economy an amazing article I found about the credit crunch, more specifically about how to deal with it using Keynes ideas. Keynes was a British economist that became the most influential economist of the 20th century (some might say that Friedman was more important, but I prefer by far Keynes and for the reasons specified on the article the reason for that is getting more obvious now).

So if you like economy and finance, and would like to learn a bit more about Keynes, Keynesianism and hos his ideas are probably going to help taking us out of this economy problem, see the link bellow. Very simple and well written article.


October 20, 2008

Some real examples of greed.

Writing about Greed from Kang's blog

I was reading Kang`s (Louis) entry on his blog about greed. I`m sure he was inspired by the lecture we  attended on Friday about the credit crunch (by the way, great lecture this time the tutor spent quite sometime explaining some basic economy concepts that are fundamental to the understanding of the whole thing). I have my personal opinion about the CC, but I wanna talk about two things I`ve seen in my life, real stuff, real experience that will help illustrate both what the professor and Kang said.

1st. I`ve been working in banks for quite some years now. I`ve always worked on international Banks from different countries. I`ve worked in several different areas and projects. I`ve worked in some different cities as well. All these things change people. For example, working for a British bank is very different from working in an North-American one. Several differences in recognition policies, pace, style, priorities, etc etc. But there`s something that is ABSOLUTELY the same in every bank (and from my experience it is the same all over the world). The traders (these are the guys who really decide what to make with the banks money, were to lend, from whom to borrow, what rates to pay, what rates to accept, etc etc ) are young, addicted to gambling and taken risks, self-confident and VERYYYYYYYYYYY well paid. I`ve seen people with 28, 29 years old, little experience and no managing of people getting paid as much as people with a 25-30 years career, managing structures with hundreds of people, etc etc. They usually don`t have a high paycheck, but they`re bonuses.....It`s funny because most of them don`t stay that long as traders. They usually make a lot of money in a few years and them go to open they`re own business, go to work in other areas of the financial industry with a different profile (Mergers & Acquisitions, counselling, etc etc). I `ve asked many people (and human resource professionals as well!) why there was such a difference. The logical explanation is that it`s hard to find appropriate and qualified people from the job, and there are only very few spots. I think that explanation is not complete. It sure has it`s logic, but I don`t think it fully explains this because even though a certain profile (personality wise) is needed, the technical knowledge itself can be learned by anyone with a reasonable background in maths. The rest is pretty much a consequence. There`s another interesting explanation. It says that people are paid not for the amount of the money they bring to the organisation, but by the amount of money they can make the company loose. In the light of the credit crunch recent facts, that second explanation does make a lot of sense, doesn`t it?

2nd. I had a brilliant teacher on my MBA.  He is a reference in finance in Brazil and currently he is living in China, working as the head of the office for the second biggest Brazilian bank, working with corporate finance ( He lectured us on International Iinance. In the place where I had my MBA we used the Harvad method, therefore we had a case to be studied for every class. We had 13 lectures with him, and 11 case studies, all of them about countries and companies that had somehow been through crisis. In the last day we did some discussion about the common causes. In this day he said something that I always remember when I think about the credit crunch
He got to us and he sad:
"We are all very clever now. Pointing the mistakes of several government officials from all over the world, several very senior economists. We must all been thinking that we would have been able to avod it because we are hear criticising it. But it`s not. First because each crise has it`s own dynamic, and as we all know history is really a mirror looking at the past. And besides that, that`s not how things work in real life. When these crises arrived, people knew there were problems coming but they could not do much to avoid it. First because we are eternal optimists, but mainly because all companies are driven by results, that`s not what they say and how they would like it to be. But when you look at your competitor making money, even though he`s taking more chances and risks, you just can`t say you are not going to make money because you think that this is dangerous., that can bring additional risks (off course respecting the law and all the banks regulations). That`s not how most companies work. You are always compared to your competitor. And don`t think another crise is not about to come, they`re always about to come because we are always relaxing our controls and thinking we are safe"
And he went on and talked about several potential crises we could face including the risk of a buble burst in the housing market in America (even though I`ve been hearing about the chance for YEARSSSS now..)..
But the point is, companies are frequently driven by short term greed in here too.
Well, that are two real stories I saw/heard that I hope will help illustrate Kang`s points.


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