Publications on Financial instability
Working Paper No. 968 | September 2020
A Minskyan Approach to Mapping and Managing the (Western?) Financial TurmoilThe COVID-19 crisis paralyzed huge parts of the planet in weeks. It not only infected the population but injected a gargantuan dose of uncertainty into the system. In that regard, as in many others, it is a phenomenon without precedent. As of the time of writing (May–June 2020), we are witnessing, simultaneously, a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a crisis of global governance as well. In the forthcoming months, it could well turn into a set of financial, social, and political crises most governments and international organizations are ill-prepared to handle. In this paper, what concerns us is the financial dimension of the crisis. The paper is divided into four sections. Following the introduction, the second section maps the financial dimension of the pandemic through an extension of Hyman Minsky’s financial fragility analysis. The result is a three-pronged analytical framework that encompasses financial fragility, financial instability, and insolvency-triggered asset-liability restructuring processes. These are seen as three distinct but interconnected processes advancing financial fragility. The third section dissects how these three processes have been managed as they have unfolded since March 2020, underlining the key policy interventions and institutional innovations introduced so far, and suggesting further measures for addressing the forthcoming stages of the financial turmoil. The fourth section concludes the paper by pointing out the results as of June 2020 and highlights our intended analytical contribution to Minsky’s theoretical framework.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Leonardo Burlamaqui Ernani T. Torres Filho
Working Paper No. 947 | February 2020Starting from the mid-nineteenth century, this paper analyzes two periods of financial instability connected with financial globalization. The first culminates with the 1929 crisis, while the second characterizes the more recent experience starting from the 1970s. The period in between is divided into two subperiods. The first goes up to World War II and sees a retrenchment from globalization and the affirmation of a statist approach to national policy autonomy in pursuing domestic goals, for which we take as examples the New Deal, financial regulation, and the new international cooperative approach finally leading to Bretton Woods. The second subperiod, marked by the new international monetary order and limited globalization, although appearing as a relatively calm interlude, conceals the seeds of a renewed push toward financial fragility. The above periods are synthetically analyzed in terms of the development and mutual fertilization of theories, institutions, and vested public and private interests. The narrative is based on two interpretative keys: the Minskyan theory of financial fragility and changes in the public-private partnership, mainly with reference to the financial sector for which the role of the state as guarantor of last resort necessarily ensues. The lesson that can be derived is that a laissez-faire approach to globalization strengthens asymmetric powers and necessarily leads to overglobalization, as well as to financial and economic instability, rendering it extremely difficult and socially costly for the state to comply with its role as financial guarantor.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
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.
Conference Proceedings, April 18-19, 2017 | April 2018A conference organized by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
The proceedings include the 2017 conference program, transcripts of keynote speakers’ remarks, synopses of the panel sessions, and biographies of the participants.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Michael Stephens
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
Strategic Analysis, April 2018 | April 2018The US economy has been expanding continuously for almost nine years, making the current recovery the second longest in postwar history. However, the current recovery is also the slowest recovery of the postwar period.
This Strategic Analysis presents the medium-run prospects, challenges, and contradictions for the US economy using the Levy Institute’s stock-flow consistent macroeconometric model. By comparing a baseline projection for 2018–21 in which no budget or tax changes take place to three additional scenarios, the authors isolate the likely macroeconomic impacts of: (1) the recently passed tax bill; (2) a large-scale public infrastructure plan of the same “fiscal size” as the tax cuts; and (3) the spending increases entailed by the Bipartisan Budget Act and omnibus bill. Finally, Nikiforos and Zezza update their estimates of the likely outcome of a scenario in which there is a sharp drop in the stock market that induces another round of private-sector deleveraging.
Although in the near term the US economy could see an acceleration of its GDP growth rate due to the recently approved increase in federal spending and the new tax law, it is increasingly likely that the recovery will be derailed by a crisis that will originate in the financial sector.
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.
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
Book Series, November 2015 | November 2015
Edited by Rainer Kattel, Jan Kregel, and Mario Tonveronachi
Have past and more recent regulatory changes contributed to increased financial stability in the European Union (EU), or have they improved the efficiency of individual banks and national financial systems within the EU? Edited by Rainer Kattel, Tallinn University of Technology, Director of Research Jan Kregel, and Mario Tonveronachi, University of Siena, this volume offers a comparative overview of how financial regulations have evolved in various European countries since the introduction of the single European market in 1986. The collection includes a number of country studies (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia) that analyze the domestic financial regulatory structure at the beginning of the period, how the EU directives have been introduced into domestic legislation, and their impact on the financial structure of the economy. Other contributions examine regulatory changes in the UK and Nordic countries, and in postcrisis America.
Published by: RoutledgeAssociated Program:
Working Paper No. 849 | October 2015
A Micro- and Macroprudential Perspective
Bank leverage ratios have made an impressive and largely unopposed return; they are mostly used alongside risk-weighted capital requirements. The reasons for this return are manifold, and they are not limited to the fact that bank equity levels in the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC) were exceptionally thin, necessitating a string of costly bailouts. A number of other factors have been equally important; these include, among others, the world’s revulsion with debt following the GFC and the eurozone crisis, and the universal acceptance of Hyman Minsky’s insights into the nature of the financial system and its role in the real economy. The best examples of the causal link between excessive debt, asset bubbles, and financial instability are the Spanish and Irish banking crises, which resulted from nothing more sophisticated than straightforward real estate loans. Bank leverage ratios are primarily seen as a microprudential measure that intends to increase bank resilience. Yet in today’s environment of excessive liquidity due to very low interest rates and quantitative easing, bank leverage ratios should also be viewed as a key part of the macroprudential framework. In this context, this paper discusses the role of leverage ratios as both microprudential and macroprudential measures. As such, it explains the role of the leverage cycle in causing financial instability and sheds light on the impact of leverage restraints on good bank governance and allocative efficiency.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Book Series, October 2014 | October 2014
By Jan A. Kregel. Edited by Rainer Kattel. Foreword by G. C. Harcourt.This volume is the first collection of essays by Jan Kregel focusing on the role of finance in development and growth, and it demonstrates the extraordinary depth and breadth of this economist’s work. Considered the “best all-round general economist alive” (Harcourt), Kregel is a senior scholar and director of the monetary policy and financial structure program at the Levy Economics Institute, and professor of development finance at Tallinn University of Technology. These essays reflect his deep understanding of the nature of money and finance and of the institutions associated with them, and of the indissoluble relationship between these institutions and the real economy—whether in developed or developing economies. Kregel has expanded Hyman Minsky’s original premise that in capitalist economies stability engenders instability, and Kregel’s key works on financial instability, its causes and effects, as well as his discussions of the global financial crisis and Great Recession, are included here. Published by: Anthem Press
One-Pager No. 47 | October 2014In the postwar period, income growth has become more inequitably distributed with virtually every subsequent economic expansion. From 2009 to 2012, while the economy was recovering from one of the biggest economic downturns in recent memory, the top 1 percent took home 95 percent of the income gains. To reverse this pattern, Research Associate Pavlina R. Tcherneva recommends policy strategies to promote growth from the bottom up—to change the income distribution directly by funding employment opportunities in the public, nonprofit, or social entrepreneurial sector.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 783 | January 2014
A Sovereign Currency ApproachThis paper examines the fiscal and monetary policy options available to China as a sovereign currency-issuing nation operating in a dollar standard world. We first summarize a number of issues facing China, including the possibility of slower growth, global imbalances, and a number of domestic imbalances. We then analyze current monetary and fiscal policy formation and examine some policy recommendations that have been advanced to deal with current areas of concern. We next outline the sovereign currency approach and use it to analyze those concerns. We conclude with policy recommendations consistent with the policy space open to China.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 42 | September 2013Perhaps the most indictable offense that mainstream economists committed, from 1988 through 2008, was to retrace Keynes’s path of discovery from 1924 (A Tract on Monetary Reform) through 1936 (The General Theory). Wholesale deregulation of finance and categorical confidence in a reductionist role for central banks came into being as the conventional wisdom embraced the 1924 view that free markets and stable prices alone give us the best chance for economic stability. In the aftermath of the grand asset market boom-and-bust cycle of 2008–9, we are jettisoning Keynes circa 1924 for the Keynes of 1936. In effect, we study business cycles but seem incapable of extricating the economics profession from reciting its assigned lines as the play unfolds.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera
Book Series, April 2013 | April 2013
By Hyman P. Minsky | Preface by Dimitri B. Papadimitriou | Introduction by L. Randall WrayAlthough Hyman P. Minsky is best known for his ideas about financial instability, he was equally concerned with the question of how to create a stable economy that puts an end to poverty for all who are willing and able to work. This collection of Minsky’s writing spans almost three decades of his published and previously unpublished work on the necessity of combating poverty through full employment policies—through job creation, not welfare.
Minsky was an American economist who studied under Joseph Schumpeter and Wassily Leontief. He taught economics at Washington University, the University of California–Berkeley, Brown University, and Harvard University. Minsky joined the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College as a distinguished scholar in 1990, where he continued his research and writing until a few months before his death in October 1996. His two seminal books were Stabilizing an Unstable Economy and John Maynard Keynes, both of which were reissued by the Levy Institute in 2008.
Minsky held a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Chicago (1941) and an M.P.A. (1947) and a Ph.D. in economics (1954) from Harvard. He was a recipient in 1996 of the Veblen-Commons Award, given by the Association for Evolutionary Economics in recognition of his exemplary standards of scholarship, teaching, public service, and research in the field of evolutionary institutional economics.
This book was made possible in part through the generous support of the Ford Foundation and Andrew Sheng of the Fung Global Institute.
Published By: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College
Working Paper No. 742 | December 2012
The Economic Consequences of Parochial Policy
Financial market crises with the threat of a subsequent debt-deflation depression have occurred with increasing regularity in the United States from 1980 through the present. Almost reflexively, when confronted with such circumstances, US institutions and the policymakers that run them have responded in a fashion that has consistently thwarted debt-deflation-depression dynamics. It is true that these “remedies,” as they succeeded, increasingly contributed to a moral hazard in US and global financial markets that culminated with the crisis that began in 2007. Nonetheless, the straightforward steps taken by established institutions enabled the United States to derail depression dynamics, while European 1930s-style austerity proved as ineffective as it was almost a century ago. Europe’s, and specifically Germany’s, steadfast refusal to embrace the US recipe has fostered mushrooming economic hardship on the continent. The situation is gruesome, and any serious student of economic history had to have known, given European policy commitments, that it was destined to turn out this way.
It is easy to understand why misguided policies drove initial European responses. Economic theory has frowned on Keynes. Economic successes, especially in Germany, offered up the wrong lessons, and enduring angst about inflation was a major distraction. At the outset, the wrong medicine for the wrong disease was to be expected.
What is much harder to fathom is why such a poisonous elixir continues to be proffered amid widespread evidence that the patient is dying. Deconstructing cognitive dissonance in other spheres provides an explanation. Not surprisingly, knowing what one wants to happen at home completely informs one’s claims concerning what will be good for one’s neighbors. In such a construct, the last best hope for Europe is ECB President Mario Draghi. He seems to be able to speak German and yet act European.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera Gerald Holtham
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):
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.
Research Project Report, April 9, 2012 | April 2012This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
In the current financial crisis, the United States has relied on two primary methods of extending the government safety net: a stimulus package approved and budgeted by Congress, and a massive and unprecedented response by the Federal Reserve in the fulfillment of its lender-of-last-resort function. This monograph examines the benefits and drawbacks of each method, focusing on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency. The aim is to explore the possibility of reform that would place more responsibility for provision of a safety net on Congress, with a smaller role to be played by the Fed, not only enhancing accountability but also allowing the Fed to focus more closely on its proper mission.
Public Policy Brief No. 120, 2011 | October 2011
The Minskyan Lessons We Failed to Learn
Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray lays out the numerous and critical ways in which we have failed to learn from the latest global financial crisis, and identifies the underlying trends and structural vulnerabilities that make it likely a new crisis is right around the corner. Wray also suggests some policy changes that would shore up the financial system while reinvigorating the real economy, including the clear separation of commercial and investment banking, and a universal job guarantee.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 688 | September 2011
Greece’s Debt Crisis in Context
According to author and journalist C. J. Polychroniou, Greece was unfit to join the euro: its entry was orchestrated by fabricating the true state of the country’s fiscal condition, and its subsequent “growth performance” rested upon heavy state borrowing and European Union (EU) transfers. Moreover, the Greek economic crisis is also a political and moral crisis, as financial scandals and corruption have been major sources of wealth creation.
The EU and International Monetary Fund bailout plan (May 2010), which includes a structural adjustment program with harsh austerity measures, has been a social and economic catastrophe. Such policy ensures that Greece will default and be forced to exit the euro, says Polychroniou, but compelling Greek citizens to take charge of their own economic problems and national faults may be the best scenario. Extreme EU neoliberal policies also increase the risk of the eurozone’s dissolution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
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. 665 | April 2011
Don’t Forget Finance
Given the economy’s complex behavior and sudden transitions as evidenced in the 2007–08 crisis, agent-based models are widely considered a promising alternative to current macroeconomic practice dominated by DSGE models. Their failure is commonly interpreted as a failure to incorporate heterogeneous interacting agents. This paper explains that complex behavior and sudden transitions also arise from the economy’s financial structure as reflected in its balance sheets, not just from heterogeneous interacting agents. It introduces “flow-of-funds” and “accounting” models, which were preeminent in successful anticipations of the recent crisis. In illustration, a simple balance-sheet model of the economy is developed to demonstrate that nonlinear behavior and sudden transition may arise from the economy’s balance-sheet structure, even without any microfoundations. The paper concludes by discussing one recent example of combining flow-of-funds and agent-based models. This appears a promising avenue for future research.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Dirk Bezemer
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
Macroeconomic Imbalances in the United States and Their Impact on the International Financial System
Working Paper No. 554 | January 2009
The argument put forward in this paper is twofold. First, the financial crisis of 2007–08 was made global by the current account deficit in the United States; and second, there is global dependence on the United States trade deficit as a means of maintaining liquidity in financial markets. The outflow of dollars from the United States was invested in US capital markets, causing inflation in asset markets and leading to a bubble and bust in the subprime mortgage sector. Since the US dollar is the international reserve currency, international debt is mostly denominated in dollars. Because there is a high degree of global financial integration, any reduction in the US balance of trade will have negative effects on many countries throughout the world—for example, those countries dependent on exporting to the United States in order to finance their debt.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Julia S. Perelstein