Archive for the ‘financial regulation’ Category

Austerity or Stimulus?

February 25, 2017

Well this is an improvement.

When I was still a gleam in my daddy’s eye, Germany fought a world-sized war against France. But now, in 2017, all the obsolete ideology that then fueled both fanaticisms–fascist v. communist–has withered down into a battle of ideas.

Fiscal ideas, like whether budgets should be balanced, or put on hold until things get better.

From a Peace vs. War standpoint, I’d say that delicate balancing act is an improvement, wouldn’t you? Budgets and Economic Plans are, theoretically, much more manageable than tanked-up military campaigns.

Now Germany and France– those two nation-state heavyweights whose fiscal priorities set the course for the rest of Europe–they are getting along just fine now. They expend financial energies trying to keep the whole of Europe humming along on all cylinders. Budget deficits that drag down Euro economies are generated mostly in the lackadaisical southern  economies–Greece, Italy and Spain.

But those two mid-continent economic heavyweights–France and Germany, function as fiscal opposites, polarizing European values and budget priorities in opposite directions. They are two very different countries; and yet Germany and France are not as opposite as they used to be. A lot has changed since they finally made peace back in 1945.

At the time of that last Great War, early 1940’s, Germany was suffering through the death-throes of a dying monarchy. What was left of the Kaiser’s authoritative legacy had been lethally manipulated into a world-class death regime by a demonic tyrant who wore an odd, obnoxious little mustache on his flat German face.

France up to that time was still stumbling through a sort of awkwardly adolescent stage, having booted their kings and queens out back in the early stages of the industrial revolution, and then replacing, in stages, the ancient monarchy with a struggling new Republic.

What the French did as the 18th-century came to a close was similar to what we Americans did, but different. We had ditched King George III in 1776. The French cut off Louis XVI in 1792. On the other side of the Rhine, the Germans kept their Wilhelm top dog hanging on a thread until the Allies ran him down in 1918.

We Americans did a whole new thing after we rejected the old wineskins of monarchic government back in 1776; we had a lot going for us–a vast, nearly-virgin continent that stretched out for 3000+ miles, with plenty of room to grow,  and to expand our new-found explorations for Life, Liberty and Pursuits of Happiness.

The Europeans–neither the French nor the Germans–did not have all that fruited-plains expansion space like we had. They were cramped up over there in the Old World.

Having wielded a fierce guillotine ruthlessness upon their king and queen, the French tried to spread the wealth all around, ensuring that everybody got a chunk of it. They had wrung a blood-stained liberte from the palaces of privilege in 1789. Over the course of the next century and a half, they generally moved leftward the whole time, toward an egalitarian idea of solidarity.

The Germans have always tended toward authoritarian leadership, which is one reason why Hitler was able to pull off the abominations that he did. But we Allies put that to an end in 1945.

Thank God.

Now in the post-WWII Europe, the Germans have turned out to be pretty good kids on the block, considering all that had happened back in the day. The last 3/4 of a century has seen a remarkable recovery. They went through some serious changes, rebuilding after  losing two wars, and then being divide into two different countries.

Since 1990, when Germany became united again into one country, those krauts have established a pretty impressive record. They now have the strongest, most stable economy in Europe.  One reason it turned out this way is: the Germans have historically been, by necessity, very disciplined, rational people and they know how to get things done.

The French are different from that. You gotta love the French. As the Germans have made the world a better place with their great music (Bach and Beethoven), the French have brightened and lightened our worldly life with their very lively, expressive and impressionistic art, coupled with their unbridled Joie de vivre. And let’s not forget the original architectural piece-de-resistance of the Western World. It was French creativity married to inventive 19th-century industrialism that brought us the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

ParisGargoyl

The French do progress with style and artistry; the Germans get it done with impressive efficiency and precision.

As an American who has geneologic roots in both cultures, this fascinates me.

Their two different attitudes about generating prosperity also encompass, respectively, their approaches to solving money problems.

Or more specifically. . . solving “lack of money” problems.

A new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas, explains how these two nations, as the two polarizing States of modern Europe, each lead in their own way to set policy, together,  for solving Europe’s financial problems. Their tandem leadership is enhanced by their two very different strategies.

The simplest way to describe their treatments of European deficits is this:

The Germans are into Austerity; the French are into Stimulus.

Or to put it into a classic perspective:

The Germans want to balance the books,  thereby squeezing all governments and banks into economic stability. The French want the assets to get spread around so everybody can have a chunk of it.

How do I know anything about this?

This morning I saw Markus Brunnermeir being interviewed; he is one of the authors of the new book, Europe and the Battle of Ideas.

  https://www.socialeurope.eu/2017/02/europes-future-will-settled-battle-ideas/

In this fascinating, very informative interview, the questions are being posed by Rob Johnson, President of Institute for New Thinking, whatever that is.

Together, these two guys explore the two basic problem-solving approaches to working out Europe’s economic deficiencies. And it just so happens that the two main strategies are related to those two old nationalized culture, described above, between Germany and France.

Sounds simplistic perhaps, but this comparative analysis makes a lot of sense when you hear these two knowledgable men talk about the present condition of economic Europe.

So, rather than try to explain it to you, I’ll simply leave you with this list of characteristics, as identified by. Mr Markus Brunnermeier. The list identifies how each country’s budgetary priorities contributes to a strategy for solving Europe’s fiscal woes.  My oversimplified version of it  looks like this:

France

Germany

1.Stimulus

1.Austerity

2.Liquidity

2.Solvency

3.Solidarity

3.Liability

4.Discretion

4.Rules

5.Bail-out

5.Bail-In

Consider these two lists of national characteristics as two different strategies for solving large-scale economic problems.

Here are a few notes I made while watching Mr. Johnson interview Mr. Brunnermeier:

For French, the problem is always liquidity. Stimulus will flush money out of markets again.

Germans see problems as solvency difficulty. Fix the fundamentals. Don’t throw good money after bad.

French: If you see it as a liquidity problem, just bail them out.

German. If you see it as solvency problem,  Bail in, to avoid future hazards. Bail-in means: Bond holders who essentially gambled with a country or bank and  then reap the gains on upside– they should take losses on downside.

There was a radical shift in attitudes in Europe over the Cyprus bank crisis in spring 2013. Who pays? Who covers the losses?

. . . Bail-in or bail-out?

French fear systemic risk so they tend toward governmental bail-outs.

The Germans, on the other hand, see crisis as an opportunity to address and solve the systemic deficiencies. So penalize  the depositors/ investors; others will learn from that, and you will have bank-runs in other places. Such circumstances provide incentives for institutions and individuals to take responsibility for their own actions and investments.

Just how the Europeans get all this worked out, we shall see in the days ahead. And the working-out may provide some lessons for all of us.

Smoke

Hilary, Liz and Dodd-Frank

February 21, 2017

Violin

Oh, there was a time, when I was a young man, when I would fiddle around, and that was nice enough for a while.

Then life came and went.

Nowadays, I find myself content to merely listen while life slips by.

In ages past, a maestro such as Felix Mendelssohn could  imagine something incredible; he could then summon up in his own mind and hands– an exquisite composition, an intricate stream of vibrations–as sublime as any that could ever be coaxed from a mere box constructed of wood and wire. He could then write the composition. Then, 170 years later Hilary could set bow to instrument and, with help from the orchestra, make it all happen so perfectly.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1dBg__wsuo

There’s a reason why my fiddle has been set aside all these years. Why bother? There’s somebody who can do it better. There’s somebody out there who can, in fact, do it perfectly.

Just listen. But I get to thinking. . .

Years go by. We pay attention, try to figure things out. There’s always somebody out there who can do things better than we can. Leave the complicated stuff to experts. And listen. Listen and learn. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Just daydreaming now; I think of Sally Field in Forrest Gump when she was playing his mother and she said life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.

Think about 2008. Everybody just lollygaggin’ along. . .then whoosh! well, you remember what happened. Everybody’s shell-shocked. Uncle Hank stammering on the Tube. They had to twist Congress’ arm two or three times before they’d come up with the money to fix the mess, at least temporarily.

Then the experts get trotted out to analyze, to testify, to figure what the hell happened in stock markets that made the thing come crashin’ down–something about market manipulations of MBS’s, unforeseen incredibilities of CDO’s, the incredulous defaulting of credit default swaps blah blah blah

As the thing unwinds, along come the explanations, the excuses, the wagging fingers, the committees, the commissions, the oversight agencies get rolled out, cranked up. Republicans in shock because Obama’s in. Democrats trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Democrats got to fix everything, so what do they do. . .

Let’s fix everything up, they say.

Ok. Obamacare and Dodd-Frank.

Years go by. Big shock when Trump comes blasting’ into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave after those 8 years of Mr. Smooth.

Now this morning we hear Amy and Juan on the radio, and here’s Senator Liz whining about how the new Republican whirlwind wants to wind down Dodd-Frank, which was supposed to be the big fix, the big Democratic fix.  I mean, she’s a little bit crazy, like all Democrats, but there’s one thing about Liz, she can play the rhetoric like Hilary plays the violin. It’s no wonder Mitch had to cut her off last week. Anyway,  Liz is saying:

“Commercial and consumer lending is robust. Bank profits are at record levels. And our banks are blowing away their global competitors. So, why go after banking regulations? The president and the team of Goldman Sachs bankers that he has put in charge of the economy want to scrap the rules so they can go back to the good old days, when bankers could take huge risks and get huge bonuses if they got lucky, knowing that they could get taxpayer bailouts if their bets didn’t pay off. We did this kind of regulation before, and it resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We cannot afford to go down this road again.”

I mean, Liz might have a point there. If things are so ROBUST, why do we still get this feeling about the 20,000+ Dow? Is it deja vu, or deja due, or prescience, maybe too much twitter or not enough facebook, or a rerun of common sense or what? Maybe it’s all just a bunch of hot air blowin’ around and we keep wonderin’ about the whole house of cards but we can’t really put our finger on what’s wrong cuz you know the answer my friend is blowin’ in the wind and life is like a box of chocolates anyway, a mere lala land where we think we got it figured out but really we don’t.

Although I do have to remind you, Liz, since I am a registered Republican: we can’t fix everything. If we could, and if we did, why, how boring would that be?

So my advice to you is we’d best leave the fiddlin’ to the experts. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face the music anyway.

Glass half-Full