October 11, 2017

The Great Recession

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Marginal Revolution University
Published on 9 Aug 2016

There’s already been much discussion over what fueled the Great Recession of 2008. In this video, Tyler Cowen focuses on a central theme of the crisis: the failure of financial intermediaries.

By 2008, the economy was in a very fragile state, with both homeowners and banks taking on greater leverage, many ending up “underwater.” Why did managers at financial institutions take on greater and greater risk? We’ll discuss a couple of key reasons, including the role of excess confidence and incentives.

In addition to homeowners’ leverage and bank leverage, a third factor played a major role in tipping the scale toward crisis: securitization. Mortgage securities during this time were very hard to value, riskier than advertised, and filled to the brim with high risk loans. Cowen discusses several reasons this happened, including downright fraud, failure of credit rating agencies, and overconfidence in the American housing market.

Finally, a fourth factor joins homeowners’ leverage, bank leverage, and securitization to inch the economy closer to the edge: the shadow banking system. On the whole, the shadow banking system is made up of investment banks and various other complex financial intermediaries, highly dependent on short term loans.

When housing prices started to fall in 2007, it was the final nudge that pushed the economy over the cliff. There was a run on the shadow banking system. Financial intermediaries came crashing down. We faced a credit crunch, and many businesses stopped growing. Layoffs ensued, increasing unemployment.

What could have been done to prevent all of this? You’ll have to watch the video to find out.

October 5, 2017

Four Reasons Financial Intermediaries Fail

Filed under: Americas, Economics, Japan — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Marginal Revolution University
Published on 26 Jul 2016

As we’ve discussed in previous videos, financial intermediaries bridge savers and borrowers. When these bridges crumble, the effects can be disastrous. For businesses, credit shortages can lead to bankruptcy, or layoffs. For individuals, they rely on credit to invest in education or a new home or car. These negative effects show you how crucial intermediaries are to our lives.

Still, what exactly causes failed intermediation? Four answers:

First, insecure property rights. Simply speaking, when you save money at a bank, you expect the ability to pull out your funds when needed. But what if your deposits are frozen? Or confiscated altogether? For instance, in 2013 amidst a financial crisis, the government in Cyprus confiscated bank deposits to help pay down the country’s budget shortfall. You can see how insecure property rights can scare away potential savers.

Second, controls on interest rates. Interest rates are the price of borrowing. Thus, controls on interest rates, often called usury laws, are effectively price ceilings—they set the interest rate lower than the market equilibrium interest rate. With this forced lowering of interest rates, borrowers will want to borrow more, but lenders won’t want to lend. The effect? A lending shortage.

Third, politicized lending. Banks profit by assessing risk, and then loaning, based on that assessment. Banks that excel at assessment succeed. Those poor at it die out. Problems arise when the government intervenes to prop up failing banks, resulting in what we call “zombie banks.” In such cases, intervention undercuts normal competition, and intervention tends to favor banks that are politically connected. In fact, it’s been shown that there’s an inverse correlation between government ownership in banks and a country’s GDP per capita and productivity growth.

Fourth, you have runs, panics, and scandals. Remember, trust is vital to the financial system. When trust erodes, depositors may rush to withdraw their money from banks, causing what is known as a “bank run.” This can cause banks to fail, as we saw during the Great Depression. Scandals can also depress market confidence. Enron, WorldCom and Bernie Madoff may come to mind.

So, which of these four factors contributed to the Great Recession of 2008?

We’ll discuss that in our next video.

September 16, 2017

QotD: The US housing market

Filed under: Economics, History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… up until fairly recently, the home mortgage market was the most conservative financial market out there. The market was not a big money maker because risks were very low and the money was steady. The home mortgage market was the realm of community banks who held the mortgages as assets for the life of the loan. It was the 3-6-3 lifestyle. Borrow from the financial markets at three percent, make home mortgages at six percent and hit the links at 3:00 PM. That all changed in the early 1990’s when Democrat policymakers passed the Community Reinvestment Act and then forced banks to make loans that were far more risky in areas that the banks, for good reasons traditionally stayed away from. Then through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the “policymakers” bundled the good and bad paper and sold it on the financial markets creating the current mess. What I don’t understand is how increased home ownership was supposed to increase rents.

Home ownership has been a policy of multiple administrations since WW2, as has suburbanization. There are a bunch of reasons for this. One big one was that the policymakers were, for a bunch of reasons, not fond of urban life. It was considered dirty, old fashioned and perhaps most importantly a big target. This was not a small consideration to people coming back from all those ruined cities overseas.

John C. Carlton, “Who ‘Stole’ The Country’s Wealth, The Rich, Or Government ‘Policy Makers?'”, The Arts Mechanical, 2015-10-16.

August 18, 2017

What Do Banks Do?

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 28 Jun 2016

This week: Dive deeper into one type of financial intermediary: Banks.

Next week: Sticking with macroeconomics, we’ll take a look at the next intermediary: Stock Markets.

Some people want to save and invest, others want to borrow. Sometimes, savers and borrowers link up directly. But most times, they don’t know each other. So they rely on institutions that bridge them together. These bridges are called financial intermediaries, and this video will show you one kind—banks.

How do banks operate?

On the savings side, they attract depositors by paying interest on deposits. On the borrowing side, banks make loans, for which they charge interest. The key to a bank’s profit is in charging a higher interest for loans than the interest paid out to depositors. Of course, to make sure that loans are as productive as possible, banks have specialized staff and systems for evaluating loan applications.

That sort of due diligence, and specialization is central to what a bank does. Not only does a bank coordinate the savings of many, but it also undertakes the task of studying borrowers in order to determine the most qualified. And then, to further minimize risk, a bank will spread its money out across a whole portfolio of loans. Thus, if one loan goes bad, the bank won’t go bankrupt.

In this way, you can see how banks provide valuable services—they allow you to earn interest on your savings, while also turning those savings into loans, which help economic growth.

Notice though, that as a depositor, your savings won’t just rest in a vault. But then, what happens when you decide to make a withdrawal? Banks account for that by having reserves. Banks keep an eye on their reserves so they can cover the withdrawals of various depositors. Predictably, problems arise, when there aren’t enough reserves to cover withdrawals. In the words of our previous video, that’s one kind of failed intermediation.

In the next video, we’ll look at a different kind of intermediary — stock markets.

There, we’ll show you how stock markets turn savings into investment. Hang tight, and see you then!

August 13, 2017

Saving and Borrowing

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 21 Jun 2016

On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, and signaled the start of the Great Recession. One key cause of that recession was a failure of financial intermediaries, or, the institutions that link different kinds of savers to borrowers.

We’ll get to intermediaries in the next video, but for now, we’ll first look at the market intermediaries are involved in.

This market is the combination of savers and borrowers — what we call the “market for loanable funds.”

To start, we’ll represent the market, using two curves you know well—supply and demand. The quantity supplied in the market comes from savings, and the quantity demanded comes from loans. But as you know, we have to factor in price. In the case of the market for loanable funds, the price is the current interest rate.

What happens to the supply of savings when the interest rate goes up? When are borrowers compelled to borrow more? Or less? We’ll cover these scenarios in this video.

One quick note: there’s not really one unified market for loanable funds. Instead, there are many small markets, with different sorts of lenders, lending to different sorts of borrowers. As we said in the beginning, it’s financial intermediaries, like banks, bond markets, and stock markets, which link these different sides of the market.

We’ll get a better understanding of these intermediaries in our next video, so stay tuned!

May 25, 2017

Words & Numbers: Government Can’t Stop Creative Destruction

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 24 May 2017

Technology doesn’t just change things, it utterly destroys things. And that’s just fine. It happens so often that people barely even notice when it does. Think about all the new services that have come to market just over the past few years: Uber, Airbnb, Redbox … the list goes on and on.

But that’s only half the story. In turn, the list of services replaced by these new ones is similarly long: taxis, hotels, Blockbuster, etc. And workers in these industries often lose their jobs in the line of creative destruction. We generally accept this as the price of innovation, but many people try to use the government to stop this by blocking the new services.

Today we’re seeing this with more politically well-connected industries like taxis and hotels. Pressure is put on Uber and Airbnb, respectively, to “protect” the established industries they are upending.

This week, Ant and James talk about why this is always a mistake.

Learn More:

April 12, 2017

Why wasn’t Lucy Maud Montgomery considered for inclusion on a banknote?

Filed under: Books, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh uncharacteristically praises-to-the-skies Lucy Maud Montgomery as even a shortlist candidate to appear on a Canadian banknote:

The choice of Viola Desmond came at the end of a formal search for historic women to put on a banknote, and I am still baffled by the absence of one name from the shortlist: that of the novelist L.M. Montgomery. If you think about the global noteworthiness standard, there are not many Canadians of any race or gender who can meet it. In its highest form it would exclude, for example, Wayne Gretzky, who must be one of the two or three most famous Canadians: there are too many places on Earth that know or care nothing of ice hockey.

They play Bach on keyboard instruments everywhere, so you could put Glenn Gould on a banknote under this rule. I start running out of names pretty damn fast after that, which may suggest a truth about our country that we do not like to confront. But Lucy Maud Montgomery is surely near the top of any such list.

Think what an extraordinary thing it is that we are still arguing about the merits of new adaptations of (and posters for) Anne of Green Gables. Those books are literature of a type that almost revels in its ephemerality. They were meant to be affordable components of a homogenous literary diet for the young. Montgomery could never have imagined that she would end up as the most enduring, best-travelled Canadian fiction author of all.

But how many cycles of fashion has Anne outlived; how many avant-garde authors and poets of her time has she seen off into oblivion? There is something about her that has unfailingly charmed readers of 1960 and 1990 and 2017. Nothing about this phenomenon is insincere or contrived, and it seems to transcend the English-speaking world with ease. Progressives and feminists are not reluctant to give the Anne books to their children. There has been no attack that I know of on Montgomery’s political bona fides. Her intellectual ambitions were small, and confined to an out-of-the-way place, yet her imagination conquered a world.

All of which does not even take into account the merely commercial argument for a banknote with Anne of Green Gables and/or her creator on it: the Japanese would hoard it like treasure. Then again, maybe that is what the Bank of Canada is afraid of — unpredictable monetary effects from an important currency denomination being too popular as a collectible. But I cannot see any other reason for them to keep missing this layup. Maybe they are prudently keeping Anne in reserve for the advent of the five-dollar coin, in order that the annie might join the loonie and the toonie?

February 28, 2017

Outbreak of World War 1 – A Banker’s Perspective I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 27 Feb 2017

The classic narrative of the outbreak of World War 1 is that everyone saw it coming and was awaiting it with patriotic fervor. But studying the people that profited most from a war, the bankers, that idea is definitely challenged.

December 24, 2016

The History of Paper Money – Lies – Extra History

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Nov 12, 2016

James talks about our mistakes and adds additional stories and explanations for the History of Paper Money!

December 8, 2016

The History of Paper Money – VI: The Gold Standard – Extra History

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Nov 5, 2016

Even as the use of paper money grew, ties to the gold standard remained… and remained challenging. From the First Opium War to the Great Depression, events around the world stretched the capacity of bullion based economics. So what – and who – finally abandoned it?

December 5, 2016

The History of Paper Money – V: Working out the Kinks – Extra History

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Oct 29, 2016

The first question of paper money is not how much you can print, nor even what its value is – but who prints the money? When every bank started to print their own bank notes, it caused confusion and frustration. Enter the Central Bank.

December 3, 2016

The History of Paper Money – IV: Lay Down the Law – Extra History

Filed under: Economics, Europe, France, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Oct 22, 2016

What happens when you really try to put paper money doctrine into practice? And why would you put a gambler, womanizer, and fugitive criminal like the ironically named John Law in charge of running it?

November 24, 2016

QotD: Black hats and white hats

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

When considering the major failures of recent American governance – the 2008-09 financial crisis, the catastrophe that is U.S. policy in the Mideast – the one thing that any honest-minded person must conclude is: Nobody meant for things to turn out this way. It is impossible to make precise predictions about the effects of government policy; that is the nature of systems characterized by high levels of complexity. It’s one thing to predict that it’ll be colder during the winter, but another thing to predict down to the millimeter how much snow will fall on a particular acre in rural Maine on the third Wednesday in February, which is really what we expect from our public policy.

Classic cowboy movies, in contrast, are not complex at all: The good guys wear white hats, the bad guys wear black hats, all hats remain firmly affixed to all heads at all times, and that’s that. You can pretty much always predict how an old Western is going to turn out.

But that isn’t how the real world works.

On Tuesday, I had a conversation about Elizabeth Warren and Wall Street, pointing out that the popular version of that story – Senator Warren vs. Wall Street – is so oversimplified as to be not merely useless but misleading. The reality is that there are people working on Wall Street who dislike Senator Warren – investors and bankers, mainly – and people who adore her – notably Wall Street lawyers, who are reliable donors to her campaign and to those of other Democrats. My naïve interlocutor said: “Hopefully, it’s the lawyers that fight against Wall Street,” as though there were such a thing, as though there weren’t nice progressive lawyers in Manhattan who jokingly refer to their yachts as the SS Dodd-Frank.

Spend any time writing about this sort of thing and you’ll hear angry and panicked denunciations of derivatives-trading from people who pretty clearly do not know what a derivative is, just as you’ll hear paeans to Glass-Steagall sung by people who don’t understand the difference between a commercial bank and an investment bank, who don’t know how Goldman-Sachs makes its money or what it is that Standard & Poor’s does.

But they’re quite sure they know who is wearing the black hats.

Kevin Williamson, “Black Hats and White Hats”, National Review, 2015-04-15.

November 23, 2016

The History of Paper Money – III: Barebones Economy – Extra History

Filed under: Britain, Economics, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Oct 15, 2016

Poor England. First Charles I and civil war, then losing to the French, then the Great Fire of London in 1666. Luckily, Nicholas Barbon comes along to help. And make obscene amounts of money. Who says you can’t do both?

October 31, 2016

The History of Paper Money – II: Not Just Noodles – Extra History

Filed under: China, Economics, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on Oct 8, 2016

How does paper money get introduced? Who has to lose their head to do so? And what does Marco Polo have to do with anything???

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