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.

Naar Rusland (luistertip)

Naar aanleiding van de honderdste verjaardag van de Russische Revolutie zond Klara een reeks uit over het reusachtige land. Radiomaker Johan de Boose vertelt over de Russische geschiedenis van Ivan de Verschrikkelijke tot de moord op de laatste tsarenfamilie. Je kan de podcastversie vinden op Trojka! Naar Rusland met Johan de Boose. Bijna tien uur luisterplezier!

Update 17/05/2017: Ik vond onlangs een boeiend artikel over een andere episode in de Sovjetgeschiedenis. Het gaat over kalenderhervormingen die gedreven waren door economische en ideologische motieven.

Wistje-dat-je: fabrieksarbeiders in de USSR leden aan wat studenten kennen als procrastinatie (uitstelgedrag):

Soviet sources are rife with complaints about the failure of newly arrived migrants [from the countryside] to shed their old work habits, in particular the tendency to slack for long periods of time only to compensate in a frantic rush as deadlines neared—a pattern of “storming” that remained a feature of the Soviet economy till the end. (Bron)

Why do Germans remember the Weimar hyperinflation?

David Beckworth recently interviewed2 (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 Ruhr3. 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)

Biological Leninism (by spandrell)

Clarifying the First Law (by Lawrence Auster)

The Warlock Hunt (by Claire Berlinksi)

One of Many Reasons Why There Are So Few Conservatives in Academia (by “The Independent Whig”)

God Save Women From Other Women (by Christopher DeGroot)

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: January 30, 2018

10 vragen voor #AuditECB

Een nieuwe website1 en de campagne Audit the ECB belichten het QE-beleid van de Europese Centrale Bank (ECB). In een opiniestuk vraagt Sander Loones (N-VA) meer transparantie van ECB voorzitter Mario Draghi.

Gezien ik zelf verschillende stukken schreef over QE, helikoptergeld en de balansen van de centrale banken, kan ik dit alleen maar toejuichen.

Het is me echter niet duidelijk wat het doel is van Audit the ECB. Hierbij dan ook tien vragen aan de initiatiefnemers. Continue reading “10 vragen voor #AuditECB”

Medelijden met de bankdirecteur

Bankdirecteurs hebben het niet gemakkelijk. Stel je voor dat je een klant hebt als filosoof Jean Paul Van Bendegem. In een interview zegt de professor:

“Ik laat alles op een spaarboekje staan. Daardoor drijf ik mijn bankdirecteur tot absolute wanhoop.”

Die wanhoop is niet verwonderlijk. Spaarboekjes brengen niets op. Bovendien krijgen kantoordirecteurs vanuit hun hoofdzetel verkoopdoelstellingen – in managementtaal targets – opgelegd. De bank kan meer verdienen met beleggingsfondsen dan wanneer de klant alles op een spaarrekening laat staan. Mocht iedereen reageren zoals Van Bendegem, dan zouden maar weinig bankiers hun target (en bijhorende bonus!) halen.

De uitspraak van Van Bendegem doet denken aan een anekdote uit het leven van de Engelse scheikundige Henry Cavendish (1731-1810). Cavendish had een immens fortuin geërfd, maar spendeerde zijn tijd liever aan wetenschappelijke experimenten dan aan geldzaken. Zijn huis in Londen was omgebouwd tot één groot laboratorium.

Henry Cavendish, rijke stinkerd en wetenschapper, gooide zijn bankier op straat. (bron figuur)

Op een dag kwam een bankier langs om te bespreken hoe hij het vermogen van Cavendish moest beleggen. De mensenschuwe scheikundige maakte zich boos omdat hij voor zo’n futiliteiten gestoord werd. De bankier moest maar “gewoon zijn werk doen”, en Cavendish nooit meer lastigvallen.

Geleerden als Cavendish en Van Bendegem hebben de luxe om zich geen zorgen te moeten maken over hun financiële situatie1. Maar een filosoof die 500 euro per maand uitgeeft aan boeken, zou misschien toch beter eens een boek lezen over geld.

In plaats daarvan is de professor fier over zijn financiële ongeletterdheid, net zoals sommigen er prat op gaan dat ze op school slecht waren in wiskunde. In een oud interview zei Van Bendegem over de beurs:

“Het is absurd en ik kan het nauwelijks begrijpen. Ik heb een wiskundige en filosofische opleiding, maar de economie van de beurs en alles wat daar rond hangt, is voor mij hogere wiskunde, op het theologische af.”

Je moet echter geen rocket scientist te zijn om een financiële basiskennis op te bouwen. Zijn bankdirecteur zou de professor dankbaar zijn.