Working Paper No. 623 | September 2010

The Meltdown of the Global Economy

A Keynes-Minsky Episode?

The enormity and pervasiveness of the global economic crisis that began in 2008 makes it relevant to analyze the circumstances that can explain this catastrophe. This will also provide clues to the appropriate remedial measures needed to prevent future occurrences of similar developments.

The paper begins with some theoretical concerns relating to factors that could trigger a similar crisis. The first of these concerns relates to the deregulated financial institutions and the growing uncertainty that can be witnessed in these liberalized financial markets. The secondrelates to financial engineering with innovations in these markets, simultaneously providing cushions against risks while generating flows of liquidity that remain beyond the conventional sources of bank credit.

Interpreting the role of uncertainty, one can observe the connections between investment and finance, both of which are subject to changes in the state of expectations. The initial formulation can be traced back to John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory (1936), where liquidity preference is linked to asset prices and new investments. The Keynesian analysis of the impact of uncertainty related expectations was reformulated in 1986 by Hyman P. Minsky, who introduced the possibility of sourcing external finance through debt, which further adds to the impact of uncertainty. Minsky’s characterization of deregulated financial markets considers the newfangled sources of nonbank credit, especially with the involvement of banks in the securities market under the universal banking model.

As for the institutional arrangements that provide for profits on transactions, financial assets bought and sold in the primary market as initial public offerings of stocks are usually transacted later, in the secondary market, where these are no longer backed by physical assets.In the upswing, finance creates a myriad of financial claims and liabilities, and thus becomes increasingly remote from the real economy, while innovations to hedge and insulate assets continue to proliferate in the financial market, especially in the presence of uncertainty.

The paper dwells on an account of the pattern of the financial crisis and its spread in the United States. This is appended by a stylized account of the turn of events in terms of a theoretical model that highlights the role of uncertainty in the process.

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