The Quest for Better Bankers, Better Banks Requires Better Economists
Review by William K. Black
[This review originally appeared in Concurring Opinions]
In Better Bankers, Better Banks, Claire Hill and Richard Painter of the University of Minnesota Law School signal their approach in the subtitle: “Promoting Good Business through Contractual Commitment.” This review explains why their thesis is so timely in terms of the most important theoretical debates boiling in economics and banking regulatory policy and the severe degradation of bankers and banks over the last 30 years. Contractual commitment was, of course, the heart of Dr. Oliver Williamson’s approach to explaining modern capitalism. Williamson, in work that led to being made a Nobel Laureate in Economics, argued that corporations were not simply a “nexus of contracts,” but also that these contracts had evolved to suppress the enormous danger to commerce posed by the powerful incentive of profit-maximizing actors to engage in “opportunistic behavior” whenever “information” was “asymmetrical.” In The Economics Institutions of Capitalism, Williamson defined opportunistic behavior broadly and starkly as “self-interest seeking with guile.”
NEP’s Bill Black and Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics Peter Conti-Brown discuss the Bank of England’s move to re-regulate the banking industry in Britain and protect depositors and taxpayers. You can view the article and listen to the podcast here.
By J.D. Alt
We usually think of a Commons as a “territory” of resources which we, as individuals, share with other members of our local, regional, or national society. The tragedy of the Commons, famously, is a failure of that sharing in which, even though the resources are visibly being depleted at an unsustainable rate, individuals are not motivated to preserve the resources but, instead, are motivated to continue to deplete them. This perverse motivation occurs because each individual makes two rational assumptions: (1) most other individuals will continue to deplete and (2) if he or she personally refrains from depleting, the beneficial impact on the Commons itself will be negligible, negating the personal effort or sacrifice. These rational decisions effectively neutralize the actions of the cooperative gene within the society, leaving the selfish gene in a position of active dominance. The larger the Commons, and the greater the number of individuals who share it, the more powerful are the tragic forces.
By J.D. Alt
Why do so many people—including the authors of most economics textbooks—believe the U.S. banking system creates the U.S. dollars we earn and spend and pay our taxes with? It’s because the U.S. banking system does, in fact, “issue” the great majority of the dollars we use—by making loans to businesses and citizens which are not backed by “real” dollars the banks have on deposit. What everyone overlooks, however (for reasons not entirely clear) is the fact that these new loan dollars are “made real” by the U.S. government’s solemn promise to convert them at any time, on demand, into actual, “real”, sovereign U.S. dollars. The U.S. government is able to make this promise because, by law, it can issue the necessary actual dollars by fiat (by simply “declaring” the dollars into existence.) A lot of people (again for reasons not entirely clear) don’t like to hear that last part. But it’s simply a fact of life: the cash dollar bills you get from an ATM machine are not printed up (created) by the banks—they are printed (or created electronically as needed) ONLY by the U.S. sovereign government.
By William K. Black
Bill talks with CCTV America about the future expectations for Banks.
By Dan Kervick
Brad DeLong says he often wondered why Milton Friedman was willing to accept the need for government regulation in the world of money and banking, but not elsewhere:
In my rare coffees and phone calls with Milton Friedman, I found I could distract him whenever I was losing an argument by saying: “Why is it that the government needs to intervene and keep the flow of liquidity services provided to the economy growing along a smooth path? Why must there be a quantitative target achieved by government for the path of the liquidity services industry–commercial banking–when there must not be a quantitative target for kilowatt hours or freight-car loadings?”
By J. D. Alt
My brother, Jeff, is a very smart guy who went to West Point, got a masters degree at Purdue, had a successful career as a business man and now, in his retirement, can sometimes beat his wife at golf. I sent him the NEP link to Playing Monopolis Monopoly and the other two essays I wrote as well, Men on a Wall and New Sense Common Sense. Since then we’ve been corresponding about MMT—with me trying to get him to “see” it, and he, to his credit, actually doing his best to “see” it while also collecting a lot of other opinions on the topic. Recently he sent me one of these other opinions, which included a textbook circular flow diagram that seemed to prove that MMT was impossible. Continue reading