Kenneth Rogoff is an Even Worse Criminologist than Economist

By William K. Black

Kenneth Rogoff, the creator of the fictional 90% budget deficit cliff, is back spreading new myths.  He has now ventured into white-collar criminology, without the benefit of any study of criminology.  The results are yet another embarrassment for Rogoff. The title of his article is “Paper money is unfit for a world of high crime and low inflation.”

I’ll leave his claim about removing the “lower bound” on central bank monetary policy to others.  I note only that he ignores the readily available (and superior) alternative of fiscal policy.

Rogoff (Almost) Recognizes Pervasive White-Collar Crime

Rogoff, of course, ignores the role of fraud epidemics in causing our recurrent, intensifying financial crises.  In his article, however, he admits that criminal activity is the dominant factor driving currency usage.

“In the US and Japan, more than 75 per cent of currency is held in the largest denomination notes, the $100 bill and the Y10,000 note. The situation in the eurozone is different only in that there is a larger range of high-denomination notes going all the way to €500, but the basic point is similar.”

His title emphasizes that we live in a financial “world of high crime” in which “a significant fraction, particularly of large-denomination notes, appears to be used to facilitate tax evasion and illegal activity.”

“Tax evasion” is a crime of the wealthy and powerful, an important fact that Rogoff ignores.  This makes Rogoff’s ignoring the three epidemics of accounting control fraud that drove the most recent U.S. financial crisis all the more bizarre.  Tax evasion can still lead to prosecutions while accounting control fraud in the financial sector has been (de facto) decriminalized.

Rogoff’s Unintentional Ode to Ecuador’s Anti-Money Laundering Policies

Rogoff gives an unintended and probably unknowing ode to Ecuador’s anti-money laundering policies, which ban large-denomination notes.  “Perhaps the right place to begin is by phasing out large denomination notes.”  Under Rogoff’s logic Ecuador should be praised as a leader in the international effort against money laundering.  Naturally, the Obama administration’s hostility to Ecuador is so virulent that FATF treats Ecuador as a pariah state despite its adoption of policies that Rogoff describes as unusually strong and effective efforts against money laundering.

Jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction, as described below.


Rogoff’s Proposal Would Fail Because He Ignores Control Fraud

Rogoff claims that electronic currency would be a powerful anti-crime reform.  “[Governments] would gain revenue by making tax evasion more difficult. There would also be savings from crime reduction.”  Because he ignores control fraud, however, he falsely assumes that anonymous currency is required to obtain and move fraud proceeds.  The CEOs of our largest, fraudulent banks could move their fraudulent proceeds anywhere they wished without any difficulty without anonymous transactions.  Even drug dealers would simply have to move drug proceeds through corporate or real estate investments run by control frauds in order to generate fictional income and launder their funds.

Rogoff’s Proposal Would also Fail Because He Ignores the Race to the Bottom

Rogoff’s proposal to ban anonymous currencies (paper and electronic) would also fail because of the powerful incentives created by the international “race to the bottom” among jurisdictions.  The real nations that aid money laundering (who are not on FATF’s list of purportedly non-compliant nations) and the real banks (HSBC) that aid the world’s most violent drug gangs launder huge amounts of money will continue to have powerful incentives to offer anonymous currency.

3 Responses to Kenneth Rogoff is an Even Worse Criminologist than Economist

  1. Pingback: Links 5/31/14 | naked capitalism

  2. Cornelius Gelpke

    ‘Paper money is unfit for a world of high crime and low inflation.’
    It is also unfit for extracting financial profit from financial transactions millions of citizens do every day.

    “… a significant fraction, particularly of large-denomination notes, appears to be used to facilitate tax evasion and illegal activity.”
    Paper money and especially the large-denomination notes definitely always have been used by citizens to move their savings home at the point, where the fear of loosing all their savings in a crush of the bank/financial system prevailed.

    Since, as Mr. Rogoff has noticed, we live ‘in a world of high crime and low inflation’, why adjust the money to such a world rather than do something about ‘high crime’?

    There is something every illusionists knows, that politicians and economists (actually everybody) should know: You can paint a door on a wall in such a perfect manner, that everybody passing by sees a door that invites you to open and walk to the other side. The illusionist may be able to make a living from his art, but: He/She won’t be able to pass through that door to the other side either.

  3. Whether it is bank lobbyist, Paul Krugman, or bank lobbyist, Ernesto Zedilla, or bank lobbyist, Jean-Claude Trichet, or bank lobbyist Rogoff, all one need do to find out who the bank lobbyists for the central bankers is to consult the site of the international bank lobbyists’ group,

    (Founed by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1978 to speak on behalf of the central bankers and speculators.)