Volcker: Reconsidering Basic Tenets of Financial Theory

Today’s must read media piece comes from former Fed Chair Paul Volcker, in the NY Review of Books:

“Some five years ago, at a conference of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, I lamented that “the growing imbalances, disequilibria, risks” were giving rise to “circumstances as dangerous and intractable” as any I could recall—intractable not just because of the combination of complicated issues, but because there seemed to be “so little willingness or capacity to do much about it.”

That is merely the intro. It takes a few paragraphs for Paul to work up a good head of steam — the man who broke the back of inflation isn’t holding back:

“Has the contribution of the modern world of finance to economic growth become so critical as to support remuneration to its participants beyond any earlier experience and expectations? Does the past profitability of and the value added by the financial industry really now justify profits amounting to as much as 35 to 40 percent of all profits by all US corporations? Can the truly enormous rise in the use of derivatives, complicated options, and highly structured financial instruments really have made a parallel contribution to economic efficiency? If so, does analysis of economic growth and productivity over the past decade or so indicate visible acceleration of growth or benefits flowing down to the average American worker who even before the crisis had enjoyed no increase in real income?

There was one great growth industry. Private debt relative to GDP nearly tripled in thirty years. Credit default swaps, invented little more than a decade ago, soared at their peak to a $60 trillion market, exceeding by a large multiple the amount of the underlying credits potentially hedged against default. Add to those specifics the opacity that accompanied the enormous complexity of such transactions.

The nature and depth of the financial crisis is forcing us to reconsider some of the basic tenets of financial theory. To my way of thinking, that is both necessary and promising in pointing toward useful reform.”

Nice to see Paul is not giving up his fight to get the financial sector back on a leash. . .

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Source:
‘The Time We Have Is Growing Short
Paul Volcker
NY Review of Books, June 24, 2010   
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/jun/24/time-we-have-growing-short/

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