Credit squeeze

By James Park

With the demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the subsequent septic shock that stemmed the flow of liquidity in the financial system, the Federal Reserve responded with an unprecedented infusion of liquidity that has continued into this year.

However, this heightened rate of infusion is scheduled to finish in July. With the looming end of the second dose of quantitative easing (QE2) the media has latched onto the analogy of Bill Gross, Pimco’s co-chief investment officer, of QE2 and subsequent liquidity pumping efforts as a Ponzi scheme. The recent exit of Pimco (one of the world’s biggest bond fund managers) from US Treasuries underscores Mr Gross’s huckster metaphor.

While there is an element of warranted alarm, seeing the crisis through the clinical prism of blood composition and stem cells may provide a more balanced view. Read more

An open letter from Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University to Lord Turner, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority

Dear Adair,

I listened to your terrific talk at the Soros conference. I could focus on the eloquence, fantastic delivery and numerous deep insights, but let me make a couple of comments that may be of actual value at the margin.  Take them from where they emanate – real friendship and respect.

It seems that you are questioning yourself. On the one hand, you are saying it’s critical to consider radical solutions. On the other hand, you are saying, “Too radical, too fast, is too dangerous. If we move to real safely, we may need to take decades.” Read more

By Michael Pomerleano and Andrew Sheng

As the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission begins looking at the causes of the recent financial crisis, we need to consider that crisis is a failure of governance. Lucian Bebchuk from Harvard Law School has written extensively on the failure of private sector governance: boards that failed to make informed judgments or control the risks incurred by their institutions, self-serving management that lost control over reckless risk taking and compensation systems that invited speculation by traders. Although Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), has openly expressed her discontent with the governance of the banks and the FDIC is considering tying premiums to compensation, we are likely to witness the largest bonus season the industry has ever seen. Read more

By Moritz Schularick and Alan M. Taylor

Are credit bubbles dangerous? Long-run historical data reveal that important changes have taken place in the financial system over the past decades, setting in train an unprecedented expansion in the role of credit in the macroeconomy. It is mishap of history that just at the time when credit mattered more than ever before, the reigning doctrine had sentenced it to playing no constructive role in central bank policies. Over the past 140 years, episodes of financial instability were often the result of “credit booms gone wrong”. Read more

Windfall taxes are a ghastly idea. They are a sop to prejudice, a burden on risk-taking and a form of arbitrary confiscation. No sensible person should support them. So why do I now find the idea of a windfall tax on banks so appealing? Well, this time, it really does look different. Read more

Pinn illustration

If we are to understand where we are, we must understand where we have
been. This is particularly true if we are to escape from the huge
fiscal deficits being run by many governments. These deficits are not
the result of government stupidity; they are mainly a consequence of –
and response to – private behaviour. We must not ignore this connection. Read more

About a month ago, I visited the aero engine factory of Rolls-Royce, in Derby. I was hugely impressed. Making jet engines able to work at extreme temperatures is an extraordinary achievement. Why does the financial industry not work this way? How might we bring the performance of finance close to that of other sophisticated businesses? Read more


Pinn illustration

A year ago, at the height of the financial panic, the world yearned for a profitable and confident financial sector. It now has what it wants, but hates it. As joblessness soars and the hopes of hundreds of millions of people are blighted, the financial sector’s survivors are thriving. Even bonuses are back. Policymakers have made a Faustian bargain. Success feels like failure. Read more

by Kenneth Rogoff

Pinn illustration

When in doubt, bail it out,” is the policy mantra 11 months after the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers. With the global economy tentatively emerging from recession, and investors salivating over the remaining banks’ apparent return to profitability, some are beginning to ask: “Did we really need to suffer so much?” Read more

By Ronald McKinnon

The global credit crunch which began in 2007 but became acute in 2008, originated from the collapse in the bubble in US house prices and, to a lesser extent, in European ones.

Unsurprisingly, the declining home values made people feel poorer, so consumption spending fell. This fall in aggregate demand in the US and Europe reduced demand for imports and caused a parallel slump in the rest of the world, including in emerging markets. Read more

From the FT:

Germany still in credit crunch danger: James Wilson investigates the suggestion that Germany could still suffer as the financial crisis reaches its lowest point Read more

By Greg Fisher

The UK government’s policies towards the banks are inadequate. This is not surprising because the British government and both main political parties lack firm ideological foundations. Neoliberalism has failed.  However, the circumstances the banks find themselves in are best understood through the lens of game theory; their situation is analogous to the prisoners’ dilemma. Government policy ought to be guided accordingly, with a firmer hand on bank lending. Read more

If the government of the UK wishes to find a suitable motto, it should adopt the advice of a great Scot. “Great Britain should,” wrote Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, “…endeavour to accommodate her future views and designs to the real mediocrity of her circumstances.” Smith offers wise counsel. The country’s circumstances are more mediocre than imagined two years ago. The question is how to respond. Read more

By Michael Pomerleano

Martin’s article “The cautious approach to fixing banks will not work” stimulated me to raise a fundamental issue that is preoccupying me as the crisis unfolds and to which I don’t have an answer. Read more

By Ricardo Caballero

Perhaps one of the economic phenomena most akin to witch-hunting is the diagnostic and policy response that develops during the recovery phase of a financial crisis.  Understandably, pressured politicians and policymakers rush to find culprits and sources of instant gratification. All too often they find a ready supply of these in preconceptions and superficial analyses of correlations.  This time around the scapegoats are global imbalances and leverage. Read more


Creditor countries are worrying about the safety of their money. That is what links two of the big economic stories of last week: Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attack on the monetary policies pursued by central banks, including her own, the European Central Bank; and the pressure on Tim Geithner, US Treasury secretary, to persuade his hosts in Beijing that their claims on his government are safe. But are they? The answer is: only if the creditor countries facilitate adjustment in the global balance of payments. Debtor countries will either export their way out of this crisis or be driven towards some sort of default. Creditors have to choose which. Read more

By Michael Pomerleano

The consequences of the banking crisis will linger for a long time. In a recent seminal paper, The Aftermath of Financial Crises, (December 19, 2008) Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff find that the outcome of severe financial crises share three characteristics. Read more


Did inflation targeting fail? Central banks have mostly escaped blame for the crisis. Do they deserve to do so?

Just over five years ago, Ben Bernanke, now chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave a speech on the “Great Moderation” – the declining volatility of inflation and output over the previous two decades. In this he emphasised the beneficial role of improved monetary policy. Central bankers felt proud of themselves. Pride went before a fall. Today, they are struggling with the deepest recession since the 1930s, a banking system on government life-support and the danger of deflation. How can it have gone so wrong? Read more

Pinn illustration

Spring has arrived and policymakers see “green shoots”. Barack Obama’s economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, says the “sense of freefall” in the US economy should end in a few months. The president himself spies “glimmers of hope”. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, said last week “recently we have seen tentative signs that the sharp decline in economic activity may be slowing, for example, in data on home sales, homebuilding and consumer spending, including sales of new motor vehicles”. Read more

By Douglas W. Diamond and Raghuram G. Rajan

Why are banks so reluctant to lend? One possibility is that they worry about borrower credit risk, though worries need to be extreme to justify the substantial drop in term lending. A second is that they may worry about having enough liquidity of their own, if their creditors demand funds. Yet, the many Federal Reserve facilities that have been opened should assuage these concerns. Read more