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Archive for September 18th, 2008

the socialisation of finance

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From Willem Buiter’s Blog at the Financial Times:

If financial behemoths like AIG are too large and/or too interconnected to fail but not too smart to get themselves into situations where they need to be bailed out, then what is the case for letting private firms engage in such kinds of activities in the first place?

Is the reality of the modern, transactions-oriented model of financial capitalism indeed that large private firms make enormous private profits when the going is good and get bailed out and taken into temporary public ownership when the going gets bad, with the tax payer taking the risk and the losses?

If so, then why not keep these activities in permanent public ownership?There is a long-standing argument that there is no real case for private ownership of deposit-taking banking institutions, because these cannot exist safely without a deposit guarantee and/or lender of last resort facilities, that are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer.

Even where private deposit insurance exists, this is only sufficient to handle bank runs on a subset of the banks in the system. Private banks collectively cannot self-insure against a generalised run on the banks. Once the state underwrites the deposits or makes alternative funding available as lender of last resort, deposit-based banking is a license to print money.

That suggests that either deposit-banking licenses should be periodically auctioned off competitively or that depostit-taking banks should be in public ownership to ensure that the tax payer gets the rents as well as the risks.The argument that financial intermediation cannot be entrusted to the private sector can now be extended to include the new, transactions-oriented, capital-markets-based forms of financial capitalism.

The risk of a sudden vanishing of both market liquidity for systemically important classes of finanial assets and funding liquidity for systemically important firms may well be too serious to allow private enterprises to play. No doubt the socialisation of most financial intermediation would be costly as regards dynamism and innovation, but if the risk of instability is too great and the cost of instability too high, then that may be a cost worth paying.

These are issues that must be pondered not just in Washington but everywhere modern financial intermediation has taken root or is threatening to do so – in the financial heartland (Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, Zurich, Tokyo and Dubai) and in the emerging markets that until recently were having their ears bent on the desirability of precisely the kind of financial institutions and markets that have now turned into trillion dollar collapsing dominos.

From financialisation of the economy to the socialisation of finance. A small step for the lawyers, a huge step for mankind. Who said economics was boring?

Written by adswithoutproducts

September 18, 2008 at 9:19 am

Posted in crisis, markets, socialism