Transcript of a Keynote Speech I delivered In Berlin on the 15th Sept 2010
The world has been rocked by the most major financial and economic crisis in recent history. This exposed several aspects of financial system dysfunction. These not only increased the instability of the financial markets but also impeded their normal functioning as tools to allocate economic resources efficiently throughout the real economy.
The world economy is at a critical point where 1) continuing economic uncertainty, 2) sustained economic imbalances, 3) re-emerging fragility in the financial sector and 4) an emerging divergence amongst major economies in the world on approaches to financial regulation all pose serious risks to achieving sustainable growth.
While on the one hand, some emerging economies face the danger of overheating and are having to confront massive capital inflows and raise interest rates much of the ‘old’ developed world remains under the shadow of anaemic growth, decimated public finances and high unemployment. Many low income countries are somewhere in between but remain prone to many risks. The world economy is unlikely to recover on a sustainable basis with just one engine of growth.
Our new paper for the European Parliament highlights how old approaches to international governance are increasingly out of date in the day and age of increasing globalization. We now live in a world that is highly interconnected, is full of externalities and is increasingly fast paced. (Available for download in our publications section)
The ever faster and larger cross-border flows of commerce, people, and information technologies has reduced the idiosyncratic risks by allowing us access to an increasing array of options for example for investments or suppliers. At the same time, the higher degree of interconnectedness that this has brought about means that the risk of system wide failure – the dominoes all falling together - has increased significantly as demonstrated by the recent world wide collapse in cross border finance and trade.
Existing international governance structures to pursue shared global goals and manage externalities were designed at a time when systemic risk, externalities and the pace of change was much slower. These institutions and their approach to global governance now look increasingly out of touch. There is an urgent need to plug this governance gap that grows by the day.
Proponents of the financial transaction taxes (FTT) are happy that the tax is in the news again. However they can’t help but wonder if it is just another false dawn. It is not.
The financial crisis, the biggest in living memory, has massively titled the political and financial landscape in a direction that makes such taxes not just more desirable also much easier to implement.
Keynes was an early proponent of FTTs and the idea got a new lease of life when James Tobin extended it to currency markets. The Asian crisis helped revive the discussion and after falling off the agenda yet again the idea was brought back to life as a potential source of revenue for funding development. Each time it died a slow death. The opponents of FTTs won those battles but are about to lose the war. Here is why.
The current financial and economic crisis owes party to the outdated model of regulation where governments tried unsuccessfully to regulate a global financial industry with a nationally focused and highly fragmented regulatory system. As a consequence of this, large swathes of the financial industry hid in the ‘regulatory cracks’ and was not being supervised.
This lack of supervision was reinforced by an ideologically driven deregulation based on a misplaced faith in the ability of markets to always self correct. Furthermore, even when regulations existed, they were not applied.
It was in this poorly regulated ‘shadow financial system’ comprising SIVs, Hedge Funds and other off balance sheet exposures that the crisis originated and its intensity was reinforced by the risks hidden in ‘shadow financial products’ such as Credit Default Swaps which were also unregulated.