From “Boring” Banking to “Roaring” Banking, Part 3

Gerald Epstein

This is the final installment of a three part interview with regular Triple Crisis contributor Gerald Epstein, of the Political Economic Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This part focuses on why there have not been more significant reforms since the financial crash and Great Recession, and on a reform agenda for today. Parts 1 and 2 are available here and here.

Dollars & Sense: Of course, bubbles burst and exacerbate the severity of downturns. One of the amazing things about the aftermath of the recent crisis has been the apparent imperviousness of the financial sector to serious reform—especially in contrast to the Great Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. How do you make sense of that?

Gerald Epstein: You have to use a political economy approach to understand the sources of political support for finance. I call these multilayered sources of support the “bankers’ club.”

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From “Boring” Banking to “Roaring” Banking, Part 2

Gerald Epstein

This is the second part of a three part interview with regular Triple Crisis contributor Gerald Epstein, of the Political Economic Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This part focuses on the performance of the financial sector, against the key claims that are made by mainstream economists about its socially constructive role, during the era of “roaring” banking. Part 1 is available here.

Dollars & Sense: How does the performance of the financial sector measure up, during this most recent era of deregulated finance?

Gerald Epstein: If you look at the textbook description of the positive roles that finance plays, basically it comes down to six things: channel savings to productive investment, provide mechanisms for households to save for retirement, help businesses and households reduce risk, provide stable and flexible liquidity, provide an efficient payments mechanism, and come up with new financial innovations, that will make it cheaper, simpler, and better to do all these other five things. If you go through the way finance operated in the period of “roaring” banking, one can raise questions about the productive role of banking in all of these dimensions.

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From “Boring” Banking to “Roaring” Banking, Part 1

How the Financial Sector Grew Out of Control, and How We Can Change It

Gerald Epstein

Gerald Epstein is a professor of economics and a founding co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In April, he sat down with Dollars & Sense co-editor Alejandro Reuss to discuss major themes in his current research. This first part (in a three part series) focuses on the dramatic growth in the financial sector and the transformation from regulated “boring” banking to deregulated “roaring” banking.

Dollars & Sense: What should we be looking at as indicators that the financial sector has grown much larger in this most recent era, compared to what it used to be?

Gerald Epstein: There are a number of different indicators and dimensions to this. The size of the financial sector itself is one dimension. If you look at the profit share of banks and other financial institutions, you’ll see that in the early post-war period, up until the early 1980s, they took down about 15% of all corporate profits in the United States. Just before the crisis, in 2006, they took down 40% of all profits, which is pretty astonishing.

Another measure of size is total financial assets as a percentage of gross domestic product. If you look at the postwar period, it’s pretty constant from 1945 to 1981, with the ratio of financial assets to the size of the economy—of GDP—at about 4 to 1. But starting in 1981, it started climbing. By 2007, total financial assets were ten times the size of GDP. If you look at almost any metric about the overall size of the financial sector—credit-to-GDP ratios, debt-to-GDP ratios, etc.—you see this massive increase starting around 1981, going up to a peak just before the financial crisis, in 2006.

Two more, related, dimensions are the sizes of the biggest financial firms and the concentration of the industry. For example, the share of total securities-industry assets held by the top five investment banks was 65% in 2007. The share of the total deposits held by the top seven commercial banks went from roughly 20% in the early postwar period to over 50%. If you look at derivatives trading, you find that the top five investment banks control about 97% of that. So there’s a massive concentration in the financial system, and that hasn’t declined—in some ways, it’s gotten worse—since the financial crisis.

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The G20 in 2015: What’s the Plan?

Jesse Griffiths, Guest Blogger

Jesse Griffiths is Director of the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad).

Last weekend, G20 Finance Ministers met in Turkey, and although the resulting communiqué covers a whole host of issues, it is becoming clear that two areas dominate in terms of actual work planned this year: infrastructure financing and financial sector reform.

As Eurodad noted in our scorecard analysis of the G20’s work last year, infrastructure has featured prominently on the G20’s agenda, particularly its push to harness private financing for infrastructure. Actual concrete initiatives have been limited: a tiny Global Infrastructure Hub with an information sharing mandate was the underwhelming centrepiece of last year’s G20 Global Infrastructure Initiative.

However, the underlying efforts to set a new agenda for infrastructure financing continue to be significant, driven by the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Existing agendas include the promotion of the idea of an ‘infrastructure asset class’ for institutional investors such as pension funds to invest in – despite the fact that there is very little evidence of any appetite for this – and a push to promote public-private partnerships (PPP), with only limited recognition of their chequered history.

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Is Financial Fraud Too Complex to Prosecute?

William K. Black, Guest Blogger

This interview with William K. Black (University of Missouri-Kansas City) appeared originally at The Real News Network. Prof. Black describes why the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to prosecute executives at financial institutions that helped to detonate the recent crisis. It is not, Black argues, that the bankers were engaged in “rocket science” too complex to prosecute, but that the lack of prosecutions is “a matter of will and a matter of ideology.” His writings on this and other subjects can be read at New Economic Perspectives.

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Understanding China’s Stock Market, Post-Alibaba

Sara Hsu

Recently, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba officially listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the United States, and not on the Shenzhen or Shanghai stock exchanges in mainland China, to the chagrin of many yield-seeking Chinese citizens. As Alibaba’s listing underscores, China’s domestic stock exchanges remain unappealing IPO destinations. Why? Excessive listing rules and procedures, coupled with inadequate supervision and a significant presence of fraud and insider trading, have rendered the Chinese stock markets a second-best choice for competitive and innovative companies. But there’s potential for it to become a more attractive option for companies like Alibaba.

China’s stock market is the third largest in the world by market capitalization, weighing in at $3.7 trillion in 2013. However, despite recent reform proposals for a streamlined registration-based listing system that would allow companies that meet criteria for making a public offering (instead of the current system in which the China Securities Regulatory Commission approves IPOs), China’s stock market remains one of the poorest-performing in the world. This can be seen in the MSCI Index, calculated by Morgan Stanley, and even in the Shanghai Composite Index.

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Understanding China's Stock Market, Post-Alibaba

Sara Hsu

Recently, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba officially listed on the New York Stock Exchange in the United States, and not on the Shenzhen or Shanghai stock exchanges in mainland China, to the chagrin of many yield-seeking Chinese citizens. As Alibaba’s listing underscores, China’s domestic stock exchanges remain unappealing IPO destinations. Why? Excessive listing rules and procedures, coupled with inadequate supervision and a significant presence of fraud and insider trading, have rendered the Chinese stock markets a second-best choice for competitive and innovative companies. But there’s potential for it to become a more attractive option for companies like Alibaba.

China’s stock market is the third largest in the world by market capitalization, weighing in at $3.7 trillion in 2013. However, despite recent reform proposals for a streamlined registration-based listing system that would allow companies that meet criteria for making a public offering (instead of the current system in which the China Securities Regulatory Commission approves IPOs), China’s stock market remains one of the poorest-performing in the world. This can be seen in the MSCI Index, calculated by Morgan Stanley, and even in the Shanghai Composite Index.

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G20 Finance Ministers Cannot Hide Failure to Tackle Major Issues

By Jesse Griffiths, Guest Blogger

Jesse Griffiths is the director of Eurodad, European Network on Debt and Development.

The communiqué from this weekend’s G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Cairns tried to paper over increasingly evident cracks in the global economy, trumpeted an OECD initiative to reduce tax dodging which is not as good as it seems, continued to focus on privately funded infrastructure, and suggested G20 impotence in tackling big problems including too-big-to-fail banks and global governance reform.

The global economy: fragile and faltering

The G20 cannot hide the continued high levels of fragility, huge unemployment, and glaring inequality that continue to characterise the global economic situation. The finance ministers’ communiqué notes that, “the global economy still faces persistent weaknesses in demand, and supply side constraints hamper growth.” Recent reports that companies are buying their own stocks at record rates, helping stock market bubbles build rather than investing for future growth, is one reason the ministers “are mindful of the potential for a build-up of excessive risk in financial markets,” though they promise no new measures to tackle this.

Instead, their response has been to trumpet the promise they made in Sydney earlier in the year to “develop new measures that aim to lift our collective GDP by more than 2 per cent by 2018.” They get the seal of approval from the IMF and OECD’s “preliminary analysis, ” which, at three pages long, has so little detail it is impossible to assess its accuracy. Interestingly, according to the crystal ball gazing that inevitably characterises such attempts to assess global impacts of national policy changes, “product market reforms aimed at increasing productivity are the largest contributor to raising GDP,” which appears to largely mean changes in trade policies in emerging markets. The next biggest impact comes from public infrastructure investment commitments – highlighting the problems with the G20’s focus on private investments in infrastructure, discussed below.

Brief reference is made to the problem that dominated the G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in February: developing countries’ concern about how the gradual ending of quantitative easing and possible future rises in interest rates in the developed world will affect capital inflows and outflows, which can create huge problems for them. The rich countries that dominate the G20 cannot offer more than the promise to be “mindful of the impacts on the global economy as [monetary] policy settings are recalibrated.”

Despite the fact that Argentina – currently fighting a rearguard action to prevent a US court ruling from undermining a decade of debt restructuring – has a seat on the G20, the issue of permanent mechanisms to deal with debt crises continues to be off the table. Instead it was picked up by the UN, which passed a resolution in September to negotiate a “multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring,” which could be a game changer for how sovereign debts are managed, offering the possibility of preventing and resolving debt crises: a consistent plague for many countries and a huge problem for the global economy.

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New Climate Bill Would “Shrink Government,” Reward Taxpayers

James K. Boyce

Regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce, director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, addresses a new “cap-and-dividend” climate bill before the United States congress. This interview originally appeared at The Real News Network. Prof. Boyce’s detailed views on climate policy appeared earlier, in five parts, on Triple Crisis and its sister publication Dollars & Sense. It is available in full here.

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New Climate Bill Would "Shrink Government," Reward Taxpayers

James K. Boyce

Regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce, director of the Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, addresses a new “cap-and-dividend” climate bill before the United States congress. This interview originally appeared at The Real News Network. Prof. Boyce’s detailed views on climate policy appeared earlier, in five parts, on Triple Crisis and its sister publication Dollars & Sense. It is available in full here.

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