Problems with Christopher Balding’s analysis of Chinese banks and currency

Professor Christopher Balding has published a blog post with his views on the link between the China’s banking system and its currency: Can China Address Bank Problems without Having Currency Problems?

He believes that “it is much more likely that if there are systemic banking issues that currency problems will also arise.”

It is laudable that Prof. Balding summarizes his arguments. By being explicit about the assumptions, readers don’t just have to trust his opinion. Instead they can follow the logic and evaluate the strong and weaker points themselves.

The goal of this post is to counter some of the points listed by Balding to support his conclusion. Continue reading “Problems with Christopher Balding’s analysis of Chinese banks and currency”

A lost decade (for bank investors)

2007 seems ages ago. It was the final year of another era, the time before the Crisis. Whatever you prefer to call it – credit crisis, debt crisis, global financial crisis, banking crisis – the crisis has scarred the shareholders of banks. Even though ten years have passed, most bank stocks still have not recovered to their pre-crisis highs.

This post looks at the evolution of the stock prices of the largest banks1 in Europe and the US. For European banks, I made a distinction between institutions with headquarters inside and outside the euro area. Continue reading “A lost decade (for bank investors)”

WannaCry about cybersecurity? Consider this first

In an event that has been called the WannaCry ransomware attack, hackers encrypted data on computers all around the world. The victims – which included hospitals and car factories – had to pay ransom in Bitcoin to get their files back.

Computers without up to date operating systems were particularly vulnerable to the attack.

People who have never come into contact with the internal IT operations of a large company find this hard to understand. Why don’t companies just install the latest patches, like private persons do on their home computers?

Software engineer Jürgen ‘tante’ Geuter has a nice blog post that explains why things are not so simple in the real world: “Why don’t they just update?” Continue reading “WannaCry about cybersecurity? Consider this first”

Stop calling banking ‘monetary intermediation’

Banks create money. To be more precise, when a bank grants a loan, it simultaneously creates a deposit. Bank deposits are functionally equivalent to cash.

The insight that bank lending creates money is a direct result of basic accounting, and has been explained many times. See for example the Bank of England, Positive Money, this blog, and most recently the Bundesbank (h/t Benjamin Braun) and Norges Bank (h/t Frank van Lerven).

A while ago, Daniela Gabor pointed out that economists have know this for a long time (see the replies to her tweet for even earlier references):

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Renaissance bankers who understood double-entry bookkeeping were well aware of the fact that they were creating money.

So how is it possible that some famous economists still don’t know that banks really do create money? Why do they insist that banks lend out savings?

Economics education apparantly fails to pass on some elementary knowledge to students.

It doesn’t help that the activities of banks are often described as ‘monetary intermediation’. Intermediation implies that bankers are the middle men between borrowers and savers.

Monetary intermediation is even an official term in the statistical classification of economic activities in Europe:

The English description of NACE code 64.1 is ‘monetary intermediation’. Source

However, there exists a much better description for banks. In Dutch, the formal description of banks is “geldscheppende financiële instellingen”, which literally means “money-creating financial institutions”:

The Dutch description of NACE code 64.1 means ‘money-creating financial institutions’. Source

As far as I can tell, Dutch is the only European language in which banks are described as active money creators1. All other languages use ‘monetary intermediation’.

Maybe everybody should take a cue from Dutch and start saying ‘money creating institutions’ from now on, so we don’t have this debate a hundred years from now 😛

Do you want to know more about banks, central banks or monetary policy? Follow me on Twitter!

Baby steps towards more ECB accountability

Transparency International EU has published a report about the European Central Bank (ECB). The author of the report, Dr. Benjamin Braun, has analyzed the independence, transparency, accountability and integrity of the ECB.

Several media organizations covered the findings.

The launch of the report was accompanied by a symposium in Brussels on Tuesday. During an interesting panel discussion, it was debated how the ECB can improve the way it works. Carl Dolan and Leo Hoffmann-Axthelm from Transparency International EU stressed that the ECB had cooperated with the NGO.

Benoît Cœuré addresses the room. Source.

Many topics were covered during the discussion. For example the status of whistleblowers, freedom of information requests, and the “cool-off period” demanded when ECB executives move to the private sector.

But my main interests were monetary policy and the ECB’s supervision of the banking sector. Continue reading “Baby steps towards more ECB accountability”

What I like about America, finance edition

Or to be more precise, debate about the financial institutional framework edition.

How should banks be regulated? Ten years ago, this question would have only interested a few specialists. Discussions about bank supervision and the role of the central bank were way too boring for the general public1. Besides, bankers surely knew what they were doing?

The global financial crisis and its aftermath changed this complacent attitude. The existing rules did not prevent the worse financial crisis since the 1930s. Governments had to bail out banks at a moment’s notice. Politicians took drastic decisions during the panic of September 2008. While those actions were taken with little democratic oversight, national leaders2 were the only agents willing and able to stop the collapse.

The crisis spurred a thorough update of bank regulation. Both in the United States and in Europe, legislation was passed to make banks safer. Avoiding a repetition of ad-hoc bailouts became a priority. The U.S. got its Dodd-Frank Act. The European Union (EU) set up the European Banking Authority (EBA) and worked towards a banking union3. America and Europe implemented capital and liquidity standards based on the Basel III recommendations. Continue reading “What I like about America, finance edition”

Disagreement and critique

The internet offers an endless stream of analyses and opinions. On this blog, I sometimes comment on articles written by people who have a large audience. My disagreement with better known commentators is regularly confused for arrogance. “What do you know, dude? You are a blogger, the other guy is a professor.” Such statements show how easily people refer to authority1 instead of critically evaluating the arguments.

Source: XKCD

When I point out dubious logic, that does not mean the authors have nothing interesting to say. Quite the contrary, I often agree with them on many points. But pinpointing disagreements and calling assumptions into question can be very insightful. So when I critique for example Paul Krugman or Geert Noels, I’m not saying “neglect these fools”. I hope that readers will take into account my point of view, and confront it with that of others. I am no contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian.

This ideal dynamic is illustrated by historians David Wootton and Joel Mokyr. Mokyr’s book A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy explains why Western Europe was the first region in the world to make sustained technological and economic progress. In his review, Wootton summarizes the thesis put forth in the book. Then, he argues that the story is incomplete. In the comments below the review, both gentlemen defend their points of view.

That is one of the advantages of the internet. Well-informed contributors can quickly challenge opinions. I have learned a lot over the years from (often anonymous) online commentators. It is a shame many media have closed down the comment sections. Blocking feedback does not add to their credibility.

I would advise scientific journals to enable comments as well. Papers go through peer-review before they are published, but the reader cannot see these discussions. Commenting on a scientific article via a new publication takes a lot of time. Getting out new results and contradictory information faster would accelerate learning in all disciplines. Blogs can also expose disinformation.

If you don’t agree with me, you can always let me know in the comments!

Update 17/05/2017: Chris Said has a nice blog post on different levels of understanding. He calls the dialectic process of reaching the next level ‘Learning by flip-flopping‘. Open discussions as I advocate above are the means to transcend your previous, more basic knowledge.

Why do Germans remember the Weimar hyperinflation?

David Beckworth recently interviewed1 (podcast) professor Jesús Fernández-Villaverde. Among other things, they discussed the hyperinflation in the Weimar Republic, i.e. Germany after World War I. The economists ponder why a hyperinflation that occurred in 1923 has had such a large impact on German economists and central bankers, even to this day. After all, the NSDAP rose to power in the 1933, at a time of mass unemployment and austerity. This was almost a decade after the hyperinflation ended.

The professors get to the hyperinflation at 8:20 into the conversation. Fernández-Villaverde tells the story of how inflation got out of hand when French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr2. The Weimar government encouraged workers to resist the military occupation. Strikers were paid with money freshly printed by the Reichsbank, the German central bank. The combination of no real economic production with an increasing amount of Papiermarks tanked the purchasing power of the currency. The hyperinflation began. Continue reading “Why do Germans remember the Weimar hyperinflation?”

ECB should give money directly to citizens

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament recently launched “Leer Geld”, an initiative led by MEP Sander Loones, to raise awareness about the effects of the monetary policy conducted by the European Central Bank (ECB).

The initiative is to be welcomed: monetary policy is too often overlooked by civil society, yet its impact on our lives has never been greater. Under its “quantitative easing” programme (QE), the ECB has been buying large quantities of government bonds since 2015. Surely injecting the equivalent of 20 percent of GDP into the eurozone finance sector cannot be without consequences. (continue)

You can read the full article written by me and Eric Lonergan at EUobserver.

So little time (reading list)

I have wanted to write a series on power in democracies ever since my How to win votes post from June 2016. Being elected is not enough (or necessary) to have real power. Policy need to be implemented. There can be opposition from civil servants and judges appointed by previous regimes1. The press can selectively report on what politicians are (not) doing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found the time yet to write down my general ideas on power, as I have been too busy with my book on banking. But right now, the Trump administration is exposing the hidden assumptions many commentators have about democracy. This makes the Trump regime a great case study for anyone interested in real world politics, rather than the fantasy version2 many people desperately want to believe in.

If you’re bored with the (very annoying and unoriginal) “Waaah, Trump is a meanie” fluff you can read everywhere, here are some interesting articles:

On leadership and politics:

This is why authoritarian leaders use the Big Lie (by Xavier Marquez)

Why do rulers follow the rule of law? Thoughts on Trump, Erdogan, and history (by Jared Rubin)

On institutions and the “deep state”:

Egypt’s failed revolution (by Peter Hessler)

Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn (by Adam Kredo)

Hail to the Pencil Pusher (by Mike Konczal)

On life in non-democratic countries:

Everyday authoritarianism is boring and tolerable (by Tom Pepinsky)

On censorship and ideas:

Raining Frogs (by Isaac Simpson)3

On trade:

What exactly does Mexico export to the US? (by J. W. Mason)

On culture:

Origins of political correctness, Lugenpresse found in panics (by Brett Stevens)

On Political Correctness (by William Deresiewicz)

James Burnham’s Managerial Elite (by Julius Krein)4

What is global history now? (by Jeremy Adelman)

A Hard Future for a Soft Science (by Bradford Tuckfield)

Liturgy of liberalism (by Adrian Vermeule)

On big data and statistics:

Do You Trust Big Data? Try Googling the Holocaust (by Cathy O’Neil)

On psychology/convictions:

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds (by Elizabeth Kolbert)

Dopamine Puppets (by Scott Adams)

On sociology:

A Miscellany of Foundations and First Principles for the Study of Sociology (by “Dissenting Sociologist”)

On ethnic conflict:

The Lost World of West Philadelphia (by Devin Helton)

On monetary policy and central bank independence:

Why conservatives should fear a Trump Federal Reserve (by Peter Conti-Brown)

I’ll expand the list if I come across other good articles. Hat tip to pseudoerasmus and HappyAcres, who always share quality stuff.

Last update: July 14, 2017