Publications on Financial fragility
Policy Note 2018/5 | November 2018
Minsky’s Forgotten Lessons Ten Years after LehmanTen years after the fall of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the US financial system, most commentaries remain overly focused on the proximate causes of the last crisis and the regulations put in place to prevent a repetition. According to Director of Research Jan Kregel, there is a broader set of lessons, which can be unearthed in the work of Distinguished Scholar Hyman Minsky, that needs to play a more central role in these debates on the 10th anniversary of the crisis.
This insight begins with Minsky's account of how crisis is inherent to capitalist finance. Such an account directs us to shore up those government institutions that can serve as bulwarks against the inherent instability of the financial system—institutions that can prevent that instability from turning into a prolonged crisis in the real economy.
Working Paper No. 903 | April 2018
An Abstract of an ExcerptThe dominant postwar tradition in economics assumes the utility maximization of economic agents drives markets toward stable equilibrium positions. In such a world there should be no endogenous asset bubbles and untenable levels of private indebtedness. But there are.
There is a competing alternative view that assumes an endogenous behavioral propensity for markets to embark on disequilibrium paths. Sometimes these departures are dangerously far reaching. Three great interwar economists set out most of the economic theory that explains this natural tendency for markets to propagate financial fragility: Joseph Schumpeter, Irving Fisher, and John Maynard Keynes. In the postwar period, Hyman Minsky carried this tradition forward. Early on he set out a “financial instability hypothesis” based on the thinking of these three predecessors. Later on, he introduced two additional dynamic processes that intensify financial market disequilibria: principal–agent distortions and mounting moral hazard. The emergence of a behavioral finance literature has provided empirical support to the theory of endogenous financial instability. Work by Vernon Smith explains further how disequilibrium paths go to asset bubble extremes.
The following paper provides a compressed account of this tradition of endogenous financial market instability.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Frank Veneroso
One-Pager No. 54 | February 2018The outgoing governor of the People’s Bank of China recently warned of a possible Chinese “Minsky moment”—Paul McCulley’s term, most recently applied to the 2007 US real estate crash that reverberated around the world as a global financial crisis. Although Western commentators have weighed in on both sides of the debate about the likelihood of China’s debt bubble bursting, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argues that too little attention is being paid to the far more probable repeat of a US Minsky moment. US prospects for growth, as well as for successfully handling the next financial meltdown, are dismal, he concludes.
Policy Note 2018/1 | February 2018It is beginning to look a lot like déjà vu in the United States. According to Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, the combination of overvalued stocks, overleveraged banks, an undersupervised financial system, high indebtedness across sectors, and growing inequality together should remind one of the conditions of 1929 and 2007. Comparing the situations of the United States and China, where the outgoing central bank governor recently warned of the fragility of China’s financial sector, Wray makes the case that the United State is far more likely to “win” the race to the next “Minsky moment.” Instead of sustainable growth, we have “bubble-ized” our economy on the back of an overgrown financial sector—and to make matters worse, he concludes, US policymakers are ill-prepared to deal with the coming crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 896 | September 2017
An Empirical Analysis of Electricity Distribution Companies in Brazil (2007–15)The present paper applies Hyman P. Minsky’s insights on financial fragility in order to analyze the behavior of electricity distribution companies in Brazil from 2007 to 2015. More specifically, it builds an analytical framework to classify the firms operating in this sector into Minskyan risk categories and assess how financial fragility evolved over time, in each firm and in the sector as a whole. This work adapts Minsky’s financial fragility indicators and taxonomy to the conditions of the electricity distribution sector and applies them to regulatory accounting data for more than 60 firms. This empirical application of Minsky’s theory for analyzing firms engaged in the provision of public goods and services is a novelty. The results show an increase in the financial fragility of those firms (as well as the sector) throughout the period, especially between 2008 and 2013, even though the number of firms operating at the highest level of financial risk hardly changed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Ernani Teixeira Torres Filho Norberto Montani Martins Caroline Yukari Miaguti
Working Paper No. 847 | October 2015
A Post-Keynesian Interpretation of the Spanish Crisis
The Spanish crisis is generally portrayed as resulting from excessive spending by households, associated with a housing bubble and/or excessive welfare spending beyond the economic possibilities of the country. We put forward a different hypothesis. We argue that the Spanish crisis resulted, in the main, from a widening deficit position in the nonfinancial corporate sector—the most important explanatory factor behind the country’s rising external imbalance—and a declining trend in profitability under a regime of financial liberalization and loose and unregulated lending practices. This paper argues that the central cause of the crisis is related to the nonfinancial corporate sector’s increasingly fragile financial position, which originated from the financial convergence that followed adoption of the euro.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Esteban Pérez Caldentey Matías Vernengo
Policy Note 2015/1 | February 2015
Financial Fragility and the Survival of the Single CurrencyGiven the continuing divergence between progress in the monetary field and political integration in the euro area, the German interest in imposing austerity may be seen as representing an attempt to achieve, de facto, accelerated progress toward political union; progress that has long been regarded by Germany as a precondition for the success of monetary unification in the form of the common currency. Yet no matter how necessary these austerity policies may appear in the context of the slow and incomplete political integration in Europe, they are ultimately unsustainable. In the absence of further progress in political unification, writes Senior Scholar Jan Kregel, the survival and stability of the euro paradoxically require either sustained economic stagnation or the maintenance of what Hyman Minsky would have recognized as a Ponzi scheme. Neither of these alternatives is economically or politically sustainable.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 44 | December 2013
Reorienting Fiscal Policy to Reduce Financial FragilitySince adopting a policy of gradually opening its economy more than three decades ago, China has enjoyed rapid economic growth and rising living standards for much of its population. While some argue that China might fall into the middle-income “trap,” they are underestimating the country’s ability to continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is likely that China’s growth will eventually slow, but the nation will continue on its path to join the developed high-income group—so long as the central government recognizes and uses the policy space available to it.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 753 | February 2013
This paper addresses the critique of the aggregational problem attached to the financial instability hypothesis of Hyman Minsky. The core of this critique is based on the Kaleckian analytical framework and, in very broad terms, states that the expenditure of ﬁrms for investment is at the same time a source of income for the ﬁrms producing capital goods. Hence, even if investments are debt ﬁnanced, as in Minsky’s analysis, the overall level of indebtedness of the ﬁrm sector remains unchanged, since the debts of investing ﬁrms are balanced by the income of capital goods–producing ﬁrms. According to the critics, Minsky incurs a fallacy of composition when he does not take this dynamic into account when applying his micro analysis of investment at the macro level. The aim of this paper is to clarify the consequences of debt-ﬁnanced investments over the ﬁnancial structure of an aggregate economy. Starting from the works of Michał Kalecki and Josef Steindl, we developed a stock-flow consistent analysis of a highly simpliﬁed economy under four different ﬁnancial regimes: (1) debt-ﬁnanced with no distributed profits, (2) debt-ﬁnanced with distributed proﬁts, (3) internally ﬁnanced with no distributed proﬁts, and (4) internally ﬁnanced with distributed proﬁts. The results of our investigation show that debt-ﬁnanced investments do not lead to a worsening of the ﬁnancial position of the ﬁrm sector only if specific assumptions are taken into account.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Eugenio Caverzasi
Public Policy Brief No. 127, 2012 | November 2012The United States must make a fundamental choice in its economic policy in the next few months, a choice that will shape the US economy for years to come. Pundits and policymakers are divided over how to address what is widely referred to as the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will further weaken the domestic economy. Will the United States continue its current, misguided, policy of implementing European-style austerity measures, and the economic contraction that is the inevitable consequence of such policies? Or will it turn aside from the fiscal cliff, using a combination of its sovereign currency system and Keynesian fiscal policy to strengthen aggregate demand?
Our analysis presents a model of what we call the “fiscal trap”—a self-imposed spiral of economic contraction resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of fiscal policy in times of economic weakness. Within this framework, we begin our analysis with the disastrous results of austerity policies in the European Union (EU) and the UK. Our account of these policies and their results is meant as a cautionary tale for the United States, not as a model.
One-Pager No. 30 | May 2012
Hyman Minsky had particular views about how the regulatory system and financial architecture should be reformulated, and one of the many lessons we can learn from his work is that there is an intimate connection between how we think about the prospect of financial market instability and how we approach financial regulation. Regulation cannot be effective if it is simply based on “piecemeal” measures produced in response to the current “moment,” Minsky wrote. It needs to reformulate the structure of the financial system itself.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 716 | April 2012
A Minskyan Approach
This paper presents a method to capture the growth of financial fragility within a country and across countries. This is done by focusing on housing finance in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. Following the theoretical framework developed by Hyman P. Minsky, the paper focuses on the risk of amplification of shock via a debt deflation instead of the risk of a shock per se. Thus, instead of focusing on credit risk, for example, financial fragility is defined in relation to the means used to service debts, given credit risk and all other sources of shocks. The greater the expected reliance on capital gains and debt refinancing to meet debt commitments, the greater the financial fragility, and so the higher the risk of debt deflation induced by a shock if no government intervention occurs. In the context of housing finance, this implies that the growth of subprime lending was not by itself a source of financial fragility; instead, it was the change in the underwriting methods in all sectors of the mortgage markets that created a financial situation favorable to the emergence of a debt deflation. Stated alternatively, when nonprime and prime mortgage lending moved to asset-based lending instead of income-based lending, the financial fragility of the economy grew rapidly.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Beyond the Minsky Moment: Where We’ve Been, Why We Can’t Go Back, and the Road Ahead for Financial Reform
eBook, April 2012 | April 2012This eBook traces the roots of the 2008 financial meltdown to the structural and regulatory changes leading from the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act to the 1999 Financial Services Modernization Act, and on through to the subprime-triggered crash. It evaluates the regulatory reactions to the global financial crisis—most notably, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act—and, with the help of Minsky’s work, sketches a way forward in terms of stabilizing the financial system and providing for the capital development of the economy.
The book explains how money manager capitalism set the stage for the outbreak of the systemic crisis and debt deflation through which we are still living. And it explains that, despite calls for a return to Glass-Steagall, we cannot turn back the clock. Minsky’s blueprint for a more stable structure is smaller banks and the restoration of relationship banking. Modifying and extending his idea for creating a bank holding company would preserve some of the features of Glass-Steagall.
Research Project Report, April 10, 2012 | April 2012This monograph is part of the Institute’s research program on Financial Instability and the Reregulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, funded by the Ford Foundation. Its purpose is to investigate the causes and development of the recent financial crisis from the point of view of the late financial economist and Levy Distinguished Scholar Hyman Minsky, and to propose “a thorough, integrated approach to our economic problems.”
The monograph draws on Minsky’s work on financial regulation to assess the efficacy of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, enacted in response to the 2008 subprime crisis and subsequent deep recession. Some two years after its adoption, the implementation of Dodd-Frank is still far from complete. And despite the fact that a principal objective of this legislation was to remove the threat of taxpayer bailouts for banks deemed “too big to fail,” the financial system is now more concentrated than ever and the largest banks even larger. As economic recovery seems somewhat more assured and most financial institutions have regrouped sufficiently to repay the governmental support they received, the specific rules and regulations required to make Dodd-Frank operational are facing increasing resistance from both the financial services industry and from within the US judicial system.
This suggests that the Dodd-Frank legislation may be too extensive, too complicated, and too concerned with eliminating past abuses to ever be fully implemented, much less met with compliance. Indeed, it has been called a veritable paradise for regulatory arbitrage. The result has been a call for a more fundamental review of the extant financial legislation, with some suggesting a return to a regulatory framework closer to Glass-Steagall’s separation of institutions by function—a cornerstone of Minsky’s extensive work on regulation in the 1990s. For Minsky, the goal of any systemic reform was to ensure that the basic objectives of the financial system—to support the capital development of the economy and to provide a safe and secure payments system—were met. Whether the Dodd-Frank Act can fulfill this aspect of its brief remains an open question.
Working Paper No. 695 | November 2011
Explosion in the 1990s versus Implosion in the 2000s
Orthodox and heterodox theories of financial crises are hereby compared from a theoretical viewpoint, with emphasis on their genesis. The former view (represented by the fourth-generation models of Paul Krugman) reflects the neoclassical vision whereby turbulence is an exception; the latter insight (represented by the theories of Hyman P. Minsky) validates and extends John Maynard Keynes’s vision, since it is related to a modern financial world. The result of this theoretical exercise is that Minsky’s vision represents a superior explanation of financial crises and current events in financial systems because it considers the causes of financial crises as endogenous to the system. Crucial facts in relevant financial crises are mentioned in section 1, as an introduction; the orthodox models of financial crises are described in section 2; the heterodox models of financial crises are outlined in section 3; the main similarities and differences between orthodox and heterodox models of financial crises are identified in section 4; and conclusions based on the information provided by the previous section are outlined in section 5. References are listed at the end of the paper.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Jesús Muñoz
Working Paper No. 674 | July 2011
A Proposal in Terms of “Institutional Fragility”
The relevancy of Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH) in the current (and still unfolding) crisis has been clearly acknowledged by both economists and regulators. While most papers focus on discussing to what extent the FIH or Minsky’s Big Bank/Big Government interpretation is appropriate to explain and sort out the crisis, some authors have also emphasized the need to consider the institutional foundations of Minsky’s work (Whalen 2007, Wray 2008, Dimsky 2010). The importance of institutions within the FIH was strongly emphasized by Minsky himself, who assigned them the function of constraining the development of financial fragility. Yet only limited literature has focused on the institutional aspects on Minsky’s FIH. The reason for this may be that they were mainly dealt with by Minsky in his latest papers, and they have remained, to some extent, incomplete, unclear, and even ambiguous. In our view, a synthesis of Minsky’s proposals, along with a clarification and theoretical justification, remains to be done. Our objective in this paper is to contribute to this theoretical project. It leads us to propose that the notion of “institutional fragility” can constitute a useful perspective to complement and justify the endogenous development of financial fragility within the FIH. Eventually, this view may contribute to the debate about international financial governance.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Christine Sinapi
Research Project Report, April 12, 2011 | April 2011
Will Dodd-Frank Prevent "It" from Happening Again? `This monograph is part of the Institute's ongoing research program on Financial Instability and the Reregulation of Financial Institutions and Markets, funded by the Ford Foundation. This program's purpose is to investigate the causes and development of the recent financial crisis from the point of view of the late financial economist and Levy Distinguished Scholar Hyman P. Minsky. The monograph draws on Minsky's extensive work on regulation in order to review and analyze the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, enacted in response to the crisis in the US subprime mortgage market, and to assess whether this new regulatory structure will prevent "It"—a debt deflation on the order of the Great Depression—from happening again. It seeks to assess the extent to which the Act will be capable of identifying and responding to the endogenous generation of financial fragility that Minsky believed to be the root cause of financial instability, building on the views expressed in his published work, his official testimony, and his unfinished draft manuscript on the subject. Whether the Dodd-Frank Act will fulfill its brief—in part, "to promote the financial stability in the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end 'too big to fail,' to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, [and] to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices"—is an open question. As Minsky wrote in his landmark 1986 book Stabilizing an Unstable Economy, "A new era of reform cannot be simply a series of piecemeal changes. Rather, a thorough, integrated approach to our economic problems must be developed." This has been one of the organizing principles of our project.Download:Associated Program:
Working Paper No. 654 | March 2011
Financial Fragility Indexes
With the Great Recession and the regulatory reform that followed, the search for reliable means to capture systemic risk and to detect macrofinancial problems has become a central concern. In the United States, this concern has been institutionalized through the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which has been put in charge of detecting threats to the financial stability of the nation. Based on Hyman Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis, the paper develops macroeconomic indexes for three major economic sectors. The index provides a means to detect the speed with which financial fragility accrues, and its duration; and serves as a complement to the microprudential policies of regulators and supervisors. The paper notably shows, notably, that periods of economic stability during which default rates are low, profitability is high, and net worth is accumulating are fertile grounds for the growth of financial fragility.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 623 | September 2010
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.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 605 | June 2010
An Evolutionary Approach to the Measure of Financial FragilityDifferent frameworks of analysis lead to different conceptions of financial instability and financial fragility. On one side, the static approach conceptualizes financial instability as an unfortunate byproduct of capitalism that results from unpredictable random forces that no one can do anything about except prepare for through adequate loss reserves, capital, and liquidation buffers. On the other side, the evolutionary approach conceptualizes financial instability as something that the current economic system invariably brings upon itself through internal market and nonmarket forces, and that requires change in financial practices rather than merely good financial buffers. This paper compares the two approaches in order to lay the foundation for the empirical analysis developed within the evolutionary approach. The paper shows that, with the use of macroeconomic data, it is possible to detect financial fragility, especially Ponzi finance. The methodology is applied to residential housing in the US household sector and is able to capture some of the trends that are known to be sources of economic difficulties. Notably, the paper finds that Ponzi finance was going on in the housing sector from at least 2004 to 2007, which concurs with other works based on more detailed data.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 593 | May 2010The paper examines three aspects of a financial crisis of domestic origin. The first section studies the evolution of a debt-financed consumption boom supported by rising asset prices, leading to a credit crunch and fluctuations in the real economy, and, ultimately, to debt deflation. The next section extends the analysis to trace gradual evolution toward Ponzi finance and its consequences. The final section explains the link between the financial and the real sector of the economy, pointing to an inherent liquidity problem. The paper concludes with comments on the interactions between the three aspects.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Amit Bhaduri
Working Paper No. 582 | November 2009
The Methodological Puzzles of the Financial Instability Analysis
The recent revival of Hyman P. Minsky’s ideas among policymakers, economists, bankers, financial institutions, and the mass media, synchronized with the increasing gravity of the subprime financial crisis, demands a reappraisal of the meaning and scope of the “financial instability hypothesis” (FIH). We argue that we need a broader approach than that conventionally pursued, in order to understand not only financial crises but also the periods of financial calm between them and the transition from stability to instability. In this paper we aim to contribute to this challenging task by restating the strictly financial part of the FIH on the basis of a generalization of Minsky’s taxonomy of economic units. In light of this restatement, we discuss a few methodological issues that have to be clarified in order to develop the FIH in the most promising direction.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Alessandro Vercelli
Working Paper No. 579 | October 2009
The Core of the Financial Instability Hypothesis in Light of the Subprime Crisis
This paper aims to help bridge the gap between theory and fact regarding the so-called “Minsky moments” by revisiting the “financial instability hypothesis” (FIH). We limit the analysis to the core of FIH—that is, to its strictly financial part. Our contribution builds on a reexamination of Minsky’s contributions in light of the subprime financial crisis. We start from a constructive criticism of the well-known Minskyan taxonomy o f financial units (hedge, speculative, and Ponzi) and suggest a different approach that allows a continuous measure of the unit’s financial conditions. We use this alternative approach to account for the cyclical fluctuations of financial conditions that endogenously generate instability and fragility. We may thus suggest a precise definition of the “Minsky moment” as the starting point of a Minskyan process—the phase of a financial cycle when many financial units suffer from both liquidity and solvency problems. Although the outlined approach is very simple and has to be further developed in many directions, we may draw from it a few policy insights on ways of stabilizing the financial cycle.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Alessandro Vercelli