Tag Archives: banking

Bailouts and the Future of Banking

Long piece today by the Guardian’s economics leader writer, Aditya Chakrabortty, on the cost of the banking crisis, bank misconduct and what should be done about it. I agree wholeheartedly with the thrust of this piece, and indeed said much the same two and half years ago in my piece on the Guardian Cif site. Aditya’s piece concludes that

any investigation needs to understand how to reform the finance sector so that crises like these don’t recur; and so that banks actually work in the public interest rather than hire propagandists to pretend they do. Because in the end, financial reform is not about technicalities, but about politics: deciding what role banks should play in an economy, and what kind of economy we want.

However, he says also that:

According to the IMF, the British stuck £1.2 trillion behind the finance sector. Read that again: well over a trillion pounds in bailouts, and loans and state guarantees on bankers’ trading. In just a few months, and with barely any public debate, every household subbed £46,774 to the City. A sliver of that money eventually went unused; as for the remaining hundreds of billions, we have no idea just how much we’ll get back – or when.

I have some concern with these numbers. And, as I suggested in response to David Malone also, I think this is important. Continue reading Bailouts and the Future of Banking

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Commentary on GolemXIV in Edinburgh

David Malone, a documentary film maker, perhaps better known these days as blogger on the financial crisis and its causes – operating under the name GolemXIV – gave a talk in Edinburgh on the 6th of December.

He’s quite a charismatic guy and gave an effective talk in a church with no aids other than a radio microphone. I hope that he will continue to campaign against the current acceptance of continuing economic policies that will undoubtedly make the majority of us worse off. I have offered him this commentary in the hope of improving our mutual understanding of the problems faced and how we might deal with them.


Dear David,

I was at your talk in St John’s in Edinburgh last Tuesday night and was impressed by the eloquence and passion with which you make the case that the current economic situation is a travesty of democracy and fairness. With that view I am in complete agreement, and I think you have the qualities needed to get the required message across. Continue reading Commentary on GolemXIV in Edinburgh

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Varley versus Volcker

There was an intriguing juxtaposition last week, as the chief executive of Barclays, John Varley, penned an article on banking reform in the Financial Times the day before Paul Volcker, 82 year-old former Federal Reserve chairman and now chair of the US Economic Recovery Advisory Board, made a speech to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago International Banking Conference. The contrast between the attitude and tone of the two statements is striking. Varley was mealy-mouthed and defensive of the privileges of banks; Volcker frank and robust, departing in his speech from his prepared text to give full vent to his criticism of banks’ activities and the need to rein them in.

Varley accepts on the behalf of ‘the banking system’ the existence of ‘failings’, but is vague on specifics. He characterises critics of banks as accusing them of ‘irresponsible lending’ while also complaining that they must provide more credit, but since these criticisms are ‘irreconcilable’ he presumably believes them both to be nonsense. Investment banks are not casinos, he says; those that think many of their activities to be ‘gambling’ are the victims of ignorance. In his conclusion he implies that it is the banks, rather than the public or its representatives, that will do ‘what is necessary to restore confidence, to secure economic recovery and to create a more stable and resilient financial system.’ Continue reading Varley versus Volcker

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Joe Stiglitz in the RBS tent

Princes Street at dusk
Princes Street, Edinburgh, at dusk

The 2001 winner of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, was in Edinburgh last week to give two talks as part of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He is a pioneer of the economics of information, showing how markets can produce unexpected outcomes because information is unequally available to parties to a contract. These outcomes can include bankruptcies that transmit further failures. So he was one of the few economists to whom collapse of the financial system did not come as a complete surprise. He noted the irony of his appearance in a large tent sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, an institution that perceptively backed a large tranche of mortgage-backed securities, and ended up mainly owned by the UK government as a result!

Professor Stiglitz is also famous for turning on his previous employers, the World Bank, and criticising the policy of ‘structural adjustment’ imposed by this institution and the IMF on developing world borrowers. These arguments appear in his book Globalisation and its Discontents.

I attended the first of his Edinburgh talks, in which Professor Stiglitz started by pointing out that the three decades of crisis-free rapid growth that followed the Great Depression were primarily a result of the financial regulation introduced following it. As that regulation has been removed crises have become more frequent and more damaging. Continue reading Joe Stiglitz in the RBS tent

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Investment banking – more shocks!

Well, if I ever doubted the wisdom of my Guardian on-line piece about bankers and their remuneration, here’s a bit more evidence from Prof Randall Wray in Kansas City!

When a firm approaches an investment bank to arrange for finance, the modern investment bank immediately puts together two teams. The first team arranges finance on the most favorable terms for the bank that they can manage to push onto their client—maximizing fees and penalties. The second team puts together bets that the client will not be able to service its debt. Since the debt cannot be serviced, it will not be serviced. Heads and tails, the investment bank wins.

Read the full article here. There’s lots more interesting stuff on their site as well! Have a look round (after you’ve read all the good stuff here of course!)

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The Current Monetary System: Manageable and Reformable?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have been having some interesting discussions on the Chris Martenson Crash Course website. Chris wasn’t very pleased with me because I (presumably quite effectively) challenged one of his core tenets – that the monetary system is intrinsically doomed. In his post asking me never to darken his virtual doors again, he accused me of ‘avoiding [his] points’ from his previous post and stated that he couldn’t ‘see a lick of daylight or imminent actions’ in the discussion.

In fact, I had avoided answering the points in his previous post partly because I wanted to see the ‘daylight’ of a consensus on reform of the monetary system, with a view to action of some sort – if possibly not ‘imminent’, since it depends on a lot of changed minds first! Secondly I believed I had addressed all of his ‘points’ before. But maybe the argument got scattered across a lot of posts, and so I present a detailed response here to that last substantive post. I hope, also, that this will stand on its own as an explanation of why we need to work with our current system, rather than expecting it to collapse under its own weight or tearing it down to replace it with some new and untried (or failed elsewhere) system.

Contrary to Chris Martenson’s view, I think that debate an important one, for reasons that should become clear when you read this. But I also hope that it can be moved on to one that is about reform and alternatives to our current monetary system. Continue reading The Current Monetary System: Manageable and Reformable?

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The Role of a Central Bank

This is a revised extract from my PhD thesis.

Correction and minor edit 10/8/2012.

In a modern state, the government has a monopoly on physical force and so it is natural that the government should provide the final backing to contracts through the legal system. Moreover, the government can use physical force on its own account to enforce its own purchasing and debt-collecting activity, in which State or Central Bank Deposit Money (SBDM) is created and spent, circulates and is destroyed. By imposing liabilities in the form of taxes that must be paid in the money it has created, the state can control the quantity of this money in the economy. This also serves to establish this money as a unit of account and gives it the status of a means of payment. (1)

By insisting on credit payments of taxes taking place in central bank money, the central bank also forces the other banks to hold deposits with the central bank, these deposits being increased when the government makes a credit payment to one of their deposit-holders and decreased when a deposit-holder makes a tax payment in credit money. Transfers of credit money between banks can then occur via their deposits at the central bank, allowing them to settle asset-liability discrepancies that arise as deposit-holders transfer Commercial Bank Deposit Money (CBDM) between each other. Continue reading The Role of a Central Bank

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My PhD Thesis on-line!

Should anyone really be interested – my doctoral thesis ‘Money and Production – A Pluralist Analysis’ is now available from the University of Stirling document repository at https://dspace.stir.ac.uk/dspace/handle/1893/1141

It examines various theories of money’s origin and sustainability, both ‘orthodox’ and ‘heterodox’, and analyses the link between money and real economic outcomes. Most of it is understandable without advanced mathematical skills!

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On the ‘Impossibility’ of Paying Interest

I note a considerable amount of interest in some ideas by Chris Martenson – who has a website and offers tutorials entitled ‘The Crash Course’. He suggests that the current way we are living is unsustainable and we’d better start preparing for when it all goes pear-shaped (which will be pretty soon according to him). There are three pointers to this alarming turn of events – two fairly genuine, I think, and one based on a misunderstanding.

The two issues I would share his concern about are Climate Change and so-called ‘Peak Oil’ – the impact of the likely future decline in oil production as reserves are exhausted. Their exact impact is, of course, open to ongoing debate.

His misunderstanding involves the impact of interest payments on the monetary system. Now Dr Martenson is a neuro-toxicologist by training, rather than an economist. Otherwise he would probably be aware that the problem of how interest can be paid when all money is created through lending is one that has troubled many economists, particularly those of the monetary circuit school, to which I would describe myself as loosely attached. But in fact it has a very simple solution, once one learns to distinguish between money stocks and money flows. Continue reading On the ‘Impossibility’ of Paying Interest

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Downgrading Moody’s

Moody’s threatened to downgrade Spain’s debt yesterday. Why do we pay any attention to anything they, or the other ratings agencies, say?

In conclusion, I have tried to show that Moody’s managers deliberately engineered a change to its culture intended to ensure that rating analysis never jeopardized market share and revenue. They accomplished this both by rewarding those who collaborated and punishing those who resisted…The adjusted European CLO Rating Factor Table appears to have been adopted for the sole purpose of preserving Moody’s European CLO market share despite the fact that it might have resulted in Moody’s assigning ratings that were wrong by as much as one and a half to two notches….every single investor in a Moody’s rated European CLO may have a claim against Moody’s for damages associated with the fact that their CLO investments were not priced correctly.

Testimony from Mark Froeba, former Moody’s Senior Vice President, to the US Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, June 2nd 2010.

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