Monthly Archives: February 2009

Ingram Pinn illustration

The London summit of 1933 marked the moment at which co-operative efforts to manage the Great Depression collapsed. The summit of the Group of 20 countries, in the same city, on April 2, must turn out quite differently. That may seem a simple task. It is not. The usual platitudinous communiqué would be a catastrophe. Read more

By Enrico Perotti and Javier Suarez

Securitisation was meant to reduce risk by spreading it, but in practice it created risk via regulatory arbitrage.

Banks placed long-term assets in boxes sustained by short-term wholesale funding, but with the backup of their credit lines in case of trouble. They kept a significant amount of risk, while reducing their own capital.
When subprime mortgages were repriced, the house of cards fell apart. Read more

By Patrick Honohan

Perhaps it was inevitable that this month’s announcement of the Irish government’s bank recapitalisation package was a bit of a damp squib.

What the government, and the public, look for comes down to two things: a resumed flow of credit, and the banks financially restored to the point where they can stand on their own two feet and are not going to be a continuing burden on, or threat to, public finances.  Read more

By Moritz Schularick

Over the past decade, China and other emerging markets accumulated foreign currency reserves to insure against the economic and political vagaries of financial globalisation. They were wise to do so. Countries with larger reserves are weathering the storm relatively better than those who have bought less insurance. Read more

By Gerard Caprio

The lack of clarity in the US Treasury’s plan to deal with the financial system is hardly unexpected. The administration is just one-month-old, and the specifics of this crisis, like many of its antecedents, are unique. As the plan becomes more specific, we can hope that the administration will be able to educate the public, including the supposed friends of free enterprise, that any plan for dealing with the banks must include the failure of those that are truly and deeply insolvent. Read more

The Nice – non-inflationary, consistently expansionary – decade has gone. The next decade is going to be nasty. It is time to start learning lessons. “Niceness” proved a mistake.

The UK economy has moved with brutal speed from what Andrew Haldane, the Bank of England’s new executive director for financial stability, in a brilliant paper*, calls “the golden decade” of steady growth and low volatility to its opposite. Stability has proved the economy’s nemesis, as Hyman Minsky predicted. Read more

By Charles W. Calomiris

Tim Geithner, US Treasury secretary, has his work cut out. Any successful plan to revive the financial system will have to raise banks’ asset and stock values, but helping banks is unpopular. Neither Republicans nor Democrats in Congress seem excited about spending money helping banks. And some in the Obama administration probably are counselling the president against taking the political risk of helping Wall Street. Many in the electorate are incensed by the idea of propping up banks and exposing taxpayers to risk of loss. Read more

Pinn illustration

What has Japan’s “lost decade” to teach us? Even a year ago, this seemed an absurd question. The general consensus of informed opinion was that the US, the UK and other heavily indebted western economies could not suffer as Japan had done. Now the question is changing to whether these countries will manage as well as Japan did. Welcome to the world of balance-sheet deflation. Read more

By Benn Steil

“Many of the most successful economics blogs promote communication within political groupings, not across them.  On the web you best build an audience by organising a claque and stroking its prejudices.  Extend elaborate courtesy to people you agree with and boorish contempt to those who do not get it.  Celebrate exasperation and incivility as marks of intellectual authenticity – an attitude easier to tolerate in teenagers under hormonal stress than in professors at world-class universities” (Clive Crook, FT February 8, 2009).

Two days before Clive’s column appeared, I experienced firsthand the econoblog treatment he describes.  On February 6, the FT published an op-ed by me (“Keynes and the triumph of hope over economics”) criticising the tendency of economists to invoke Keynes, rather than logic and evidence, in support of any and all forms of new deficit spending, which are now massed together under the cozy umbrella of “stimulus” – a term that closes discussion by simply assuming the merits it claims. Read more

By Ricardo J Caballero

In all likelihood, political constraints severely limited the ambition and effectiveness of the US financial stability package. Economists need to unite behind relaxing these constraints. Talking lightly about nationalisation, as is increasingly taking place, does exactly the opposite.

There are two types of arguments for nationalisation. One argument is a gut reaction that enough-is-enough and we must stop transferring resources to Wall Street’s “crooks and oligarchs.” This reaction only adds fuel to the fire and exacerbates self-destructive mob-mentality behaviour. Read more

By Susan Schadler

The debate about how to prevent future crises focuses largely on improving financial sector regulation. Few  ideas have surfaced for strengthening institutional capacity to prevent macroeconomic policy faults, a key factor underlying the current crisis. Here, politicians seem to be settling for more of the same – “firm surveillance” by the International Monetary Fund. Clear thinking on a fresh start is needed.

First, some history. After 25 years of an essentially rules-based international macroeconomic order (fixed but adjustable exchange rates), the post-Bretton Woods system abandoned rules. Instead, flexible exchange rates (initially adopted by large countries and gradually by many others) were expected to put market pressure on countries with unsustainable policies. IMF surveillance -annual assessments of each member’s macroeconomic policies – was to buttress market discipline, especially when countries impeded market forces or markets sent wrong signals.  Read more


Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed? In normal times, this would be a ludicrous question. But these are not normal times. They are times of great danger. Today, the new US administration can disown responsibility for its inheritance; tomorrow, it will own it. Today, it can offer solutions; tomorrow it will have become the problem. Today, it is in control of events; tomorrow, events will take control of it. Doing too little is now far riskier than doing too much. If he fails to act decisively, the president risks being overwhelmed, like his predecessor. The costs to the US and the world of another failed presidency do not bear contemplating. Read more

By Michael Pomerleano, Harald Scheule, and Andrew Sheng

The US Treasury just announced a Financial Stability Plan (revamped Tarp) to help purge banks of their bad bets by partnering with the private sector to buy troubled assets. The basic idea is to lend government money (US Federal Reserve) or guarantee borrowings (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) at a suitable spread over Libor to anyone- e.g., hedge funds and pension funds – who wants to buy toxic assets from the banks.  Read more

By Ronald McKinnon

Tensions between the US and China escalated recently when Timothy Geithner, the new US Treasury secretary, suggested that China might be designated as a “currency manipulator’. Premier Wen Jiabao mounted a vigorous defence of China’s existing exchange rate policy at a high level meeting of world leaders at Davos, Switzerland. Mr Wen pledged to keep the renminbi at a “reasonable and balanced level”. Read more

The debate over bankers’ bonuses has polarised opinion, even within the Financial Times. invited Jo Johnson, editor of the Lex column, and Martin Wolf, our chief economics commentator, to share their spirited discussions with readers. Click here to read their posts.

By Roger E. A. Farmer

We don’t need to nationalise the banks. We don’t need to guarantee bad assets. We don’t need government to own voting shares in private banks. We don’t need to create a bad bank full of toxic assets. We just need a little faith in free markets and a little creative intervention. I propose that the central bank should support the price of an indexed fund of bank stocks. Read more

I am living in New York at the moment. I find that Americans who are aware other economies exist have one source of comfort: the US is in bad shape, but the UK is worse. Reading the Green Budget from the Institute for Fiscal Studies forces one to agree: the UK is in a mess. Yet it should still be a manageable mess. Read more

By Jeffrey Sachs

One of the vexing problems of the US banking crisis is the difficulty of valuing the toxic assets on the banks’ balance sheets.  The government is proposing to remove these assets in return for taxpayer equity in the banks, but at what terms of exchange? It seems that if the government pays too much it bails out the banks, while if it pays too little it de-capitalises them.  There is way, however, to be both fair and efficient, by settling the taxpayers’ ownership at a later date, after the toxic assets have been monetised. Read more

By Jagdish Bhagwati

President Barack Obama faces protectionist pressures. These are not just from the labour lobbies that have led Joe Biden, US vice-president, to chide “pure free traders” and to ask for “fair trade”; and which, astonishingly, have also led the US president to use his first meeting with President Felipe Calderón of Mexico – overwhelmed by the brutal fight against drug cartels caused by the US failure to legalise drugs – to urge on him tougher labour standards, a protectionist demand that is clearly aimed at raising Mexican costs of production. The pressures come also from the lobbies pushing for a Detroit bail-out that is inconsistent with the World Trade Organisation. Read more

A hyperpower’s place is in the wrong. This is particularly true when, as last week at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, the hyperpower in question is barely represented, at least at the official level. But, truth to tell, the critics of the US – led by prime ministers Wen Jiabao of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia – had an easy story of incompetence and malfeasance to tell. Read more