Publications on Financialization
Working Paper No. 972 | September 2020
On the Nature and Outcomes of the Beauty ContestSince the 2008 crisis, the economics literature has shown a renewed interest in Keynes’s “beauty contest” (BC) as a fundamental aspect of the functioning of financial markets. We argue that to understand the importance of the BC, psychological and informational factors are of small importance, and a dynamic-structural approach should be followed instead: the BC framework is paramount because it is rooted in the historical trajectory of capitalism and it is not simply a consequence of “irrational” (i.e., biased) agents. In this genuine form, the BC mechanism allows one to understand the main trends of a financialized world. Moreover, the conventional nature of financial markets provides a sound method for assessing different economic policies whose effectiveness depends on how much they can influence the convention itself. This alternative understanding of the BC can be used to start the needed rethinking of economics, urged by the crisis, that is for now reduced to studying the financial and psychological “imperfections” of the market.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Lorenzo Esposito Giuseppe Mastromatteo
Working Paper No. 933 | July 2019
Making Sense of the Barro-Ricardo Equivalence in a Financialized WorldThe 2008 crisis created a need to rethink many aspects of economic theory, including the role of public intervention in the economy. On this issue, we explore the Barro-Ricardo equivalence, which has played a decisive role in molding the economic policies that fostered the crisis. We analyze the equivalence and its theoretical underpinnings, concluding that: (1) it declares, but then forgets, that it does not matter whether the nature of debt and investment is public or private; (2) its most problematic assumption is the representative agent hypothesis, which does not allow for an explanation of financialization and cannot assess dangers coming from high levels of financial leverage; (3) social wealth cannot be based on any micro-foundation and is linked to the role of the state as provider of financial stability; and (4) default is always the optimal policy for the government, and this remains true even when relaxing many equivalence assumptions. We go on to discuss possible solutions to high levels of public debt in the real world, inferring that no general conclusions are possible and every solution or mix of solutions must be tailored to each specific case. We conclude by connecting different solutions to the political balance of forces in the current era of financialization, using Italy (and, by extension, the eurozone) as a concrete example to better illustrate the discussion.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Lorenzo Esposito Giuseppe Mastromatteo
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. 892 | June 2017
Standing on the Shoulders of Minsky
Since the death of Hyman Minsky in 1996, much has been written about financialization. This paper explores the issues that Minsky examined in the last decade of his life and considers their relationship to that financialization literature. Part I addresses Minsky’s penetrating observations regarding what he called money manager capitalism. Part II outlines the powerful analytical framework that Minsky used to organize his thinking and that we can use to extend his work. Part III shows how Minsky’s observations and framework represent a major contribution to the study of financialization. Part IV highlights two keys to Minsky’s success: his treatment of economics as a grand adventure and his willingness to step beyond the world of theory. Part V concludes by providing a short recap, acknowledging formidable challenges facing scholars with a Minsky perspective, and calling attention to the glimmer of hope that offers a way forward.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Charles J. Whalen
Working Paper No. 869 | June 2016
Phases of Financialization within the 20th Century in the United States
This paper explores from a historical perspective the process of financialization over the course of the 20th century. We identify four phases of financialization: the first, from the 1900s to 1933 (early financialization); the second, from 1933 to 1940 (transitory phase); the third, between 1945 and 1973 (definancialization); and the fourth period begins in the early 1970s and leads to the Great Recession (complex financialization). Our findings indicate that the main features of the current phase of financialization were already in place in the first period. We closely examine institutions within these distinct financial regimes and focus on the relative size of the financial sector, the respective regulation regime of each period, and the intensity of the shareholder value orientation, as well as the level of financial innovations implemented. Although financialization is a recent term, the process is far from novel. We conclude that its effects can be studied better with reference to economic history.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Apostolos Fasianos Diego Guevara Christos Pierros
Working Paper No. 837 | May 2015
A Keynes-Schumpeter-Minsky Synthesis
This paper discusses the role that finance plays in promoting the capital development of the economy, with particular emphasis on the current situation of the United States and the United Kingdom. We define both “finance” and “capital development” very broadly. We begin with the observation that the financial system evolved over the postwar period, from one in which closely regulated and chartered commercial banks were dominant to one in which financial markets dominate the system. Over this period, the financial system grew rapidly relative to the nonfinancial sector, rising from about 10 percent of value added and a 10 percent share of corporate profits to 20 percent of value added and 40 percent of corporate profits in the United States. To a large degree, this was because finance, instead of financing the capital development of the economy, was financing itself. At the same time, the capital development of the economy suffered perceptibly. If we apply a broad definition—to include technological advances, rising labor productivity, public and private infrastructure, innovations, and the advance of human knowledge—the rate of growth of capacity has slowed.
The past quarter century witnessed the greatest explosion of financial innovation the world had ever seen. Financial fragility grew until the economy collapsed into the global financial crisis. At the same time, we saw that much (or even most) of the financial innovation was directed outside the sphere of production—to complex financial instruments related to securitized mortgages, to commodities futures, and to a range of other financial derivatives. Unlike J. A. Schumpeter, Hyman Minsky did not see the banker merely as the ephor of capitalism, but as its key source of instability. Furthermore, due to “financialisation of the real economy,” the picture is not simply one of runaway finance and an investment-starved real economy, but one where the real economy itself has retreated from funding investment opportunities and is instead either hoarding cash or using corporate profits for speculative investments such as share buybacks. As we will argue, financialization is rooted in predation; in Matt Taibbi’s famous phrase, Wall Street behaves like a giant, blood-sucking “vampire squid.”
In this paper we will investigate financial reforms as well as other government policy that is necessary to promote the capital development of the economy, paying particular attention to increasing funding of the innovation process. For that reason, we will look not only to Minsky’s ideas on the financial system, but also to Schumpeter’s views on financing innovation.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Mariana Mazzucato L. Randall Wray
Working Paper No. 828 | January 2015
The Indian Case
Financialization creates space for the financial sector in economies, and in doing so helps to raise the share of financial assets in the portfolios held by market participants. Largely driven by deregulation, the process works to make financial assets relatively attractive as compared to other assets, by offering both better returns and potential capital gains. Both the trend toward a more financialized economy and the expected returns on financial investments have provided incentives to corporate managers to invest larger sums in financial assets, resulting in growth of the share of financial assets relative to other assets held in portfolios. Assets held in the financial sector, however, failed to generate asset growth for the corporates. The need to obtain resources by borrowing in order to meet current liabilities reflects a pattern of Ponzi finance on their part. This paper traces the above pattern in corporate holdings of assets and its implications, with emphasis on the Indian economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Sunanda Sen Zico DasGupta
Working Paper No. 796 | April 2014
The Financial Instability Hypothesis in the Era of Financialization
The aim of this paper is to develop a structural explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis, grounded on the combination of two apparently incompatible financial theories: the financial instability hypothesis by Hyman P. Minsky and the theory of capital market inflation by Jan Toporowski. Our thesis is that, once the evolution of the financial market is taken into account, the financial Keynesianism of Minsky is still a valid framework to understand the events leading to the crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Eugenio Caverzasi
Working Paper No. 729 | August 2012
As the heirs to classical political economy and the German historical school, the American institutionalists retained rent theory and its corollary idea of unearned income. More than any other institutionalist, Thorstein Veblen emphasized the dynamics of banks financing real estate speculation and Wall Street maneuvering to organize monopolies and trusts. Yet despite the popularity of his writings with the reading public, his contribution has remained isolated from the academic mainstream, and he did not leave behind a “school.”
Veblen criticized academic economists for having fallen subject to “trained incapacity” as a result of being turned into factotums to defend rentier interests. Business schools were painting an unrealistic happy-face picture of the economy, teaching financial techniques but leaving out of account the need to reform the economy’s practices and institutions.
In emphasizing how financial “predation” was hijacking the economy’s technological potential, Veblen’s vision was as materialist and culturally broad as that of the Marxists, and as dismissive of the status quo. Technological innovation was reducing costs but breeding monopolies as the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors joined forces to create a financial symbiosis cemented by political-insider dealings—and a trivialization of economic theory as it seeks to avoid dealing with society’s failure to achieve its technological potential. The fruits of rising productivity were used to finance robber barons who had no better use of their wealth than to reduce great artworks to the status of ownership trophies and achieve leisure-class status by funding business schools and colleges to promote a self-congratulatory but deceptive portrayal of their wealth-grabbing behavior.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 711 | March 2012
A Minskyan Interpretation of the Causes, the Fed’s Bailout, and the Future
This paper provides a quick review of the causes of the Global Financial Crisis that began in 2007. There were many contributing factors, but among the most important were rising inequality and stagnant incomes for most American workers, growing private sector debt in the United States and many other countries, financialization of the global economy (itself a very complex process), deregulation and desupervision of financial institutions, and overly tight fiscal policy in many nations. The analysis adopts the “stages” approach developed by Hyman P. Minsky, according to which a gradual transformation of the economy over the postwar period has in many ways reproduced the conditions that led to the Great Depression. The paper then moves on to an examination of the US government’s bailout of the global financial system. While other governments played a role, the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve assumed much of the responsibility for the bailout. A detailed examination of the Fed’s response shows how unprecedented—and possibly illegal—was its extension of the government’s “safety net” to the biggest financial institutions. The paper closes with an assessment of the problems the bailout itself poses for the future.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 699 | December 2011
Ricardian trade theory was based on the cost of labor at a time when grain and other consumer goods accounted for most subsistence spending. But today’s budgets are dominated by payments to the finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sector and to newly privatized monopolies. This has made FIRE the determining factor in trade competitiveness.
The major elements in US family budgets are housing (with prices bid up on credit), debt service, and health insurance—and wage withholding for financializing Social Security and Medicare. Industrial firms also have been financialized, using debt leverage to increase their return on equity. The effect is for interest to increase as a proportion of cash flow (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization, or EBITDA). Corporate raiders pay their high-interest bondholders, while financial managers also are using EBITDA for stock buybacks to increase share prices (and hence the value of their stock options).
Shifting taxes off property and onto employment and retail sales spurs the financialization of family and business budgets as tax cuts on property are capitalized into higher bank loans. Payments to government agencies for taxes and presaving for Social Security and Medicare absorb another 30 percent of family budgets. These transfer payments to the FIRE sector and government agencies have transformed international cost structures, absorbing roughly 75 percent of US family budgets. This helps explain the deteriorating US industrial trade balance as the economy has become financialized.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
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. 656 | March 2011
This paper begins by defining, and distinguishing between, money and finance, and addresses alternative ways of financing spending. We next examine the role played by financial institutions (e.g., banks) in the provision of finance. The role of government as both regulator of private institutions and provider of finance is also discussed, and related topics such as liquidity and saving are explored. We conclude with a look at some of the new innovations in finance, and at the global financial crisis, which could be blamed on excessive financialization of the economy.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 634 | November 2010
The post-1945 mode of global integration has outlived its early promise. It has become exploitative rather than supportive of capital investment, public infrastructure, and living standards.
In the sphere of trade, countries need to rebuild their self-sufficiency in food grains and other basic needs. In the financial sphere, the ability of banks to create credit (loans) at almost no cost, with only a few strokes on their computer keyboards, has led North America and Europe to become debt ridden—a contagion that now threatens to move into Brazil and other BRIC countries as banks seek to finance buyouts and lend against these countries' natural resources, real estate, basic infrastructure, and industry. Speculators, arbitrageurs, and financial institutions using "free money" see these economies as easy pickings. But by obliging countries to defend themselves financially, they and their predatory credit creation are helping to bring the era of free capital movements to an end.
Does Brazil really need inflows of foreign credit for domestic spending when it can create this at home? Foreign lending ends up in its central bank, which invests its reserves in US Treasury and euro bonds that yield low returns, and whose international value is likely to decline against the BRIC currencies. Accepting credit and buyout "capital inflows" from the North thus provides a "free lunch" for key-currency issuers of dollars and euros, but it does not significantly help local economies.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 627 | October 2010
For the past decade, the US economy has been driven not by industrial investment but by a real estate bubble. Although the United States may seem to be the leading example of industrial capitalism, its economy is no longer based mainly on investing in capital goods to employ labor to produce output to sell at a profit. The largest sector remains real estate, whose cash flow (EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) accounts for over a quarter of national income. Financially, mortgages account for 70 percent of the US economy’s interest payments, reflecting the fact that real estate is the financial system’s major customer.
As the economy’s largest asset category, real estate generates most of the economy’s capital gains. The gains are the aim of real investors, as the real estate sector normally operates without declaring any profit. Investors agree to pay their net rental income to their mortgage banker, hoping to sell the property at a capital gain (mainly a land-price gain).
The tax system encourages this debt pyramiding. Interest and depreciation absorb most of the cash flow, leaving no income tax due for most of the post-1945 period. States and localities have shifted their tax base off property onto labor via income and sales taxes. Most important, capital gains are taxed at a much lower rate than are current earnings. Investors do not have to pay any capital gains tax at all as long as they invest their gains in the purchase of new property.
This tax favoritism toward real estate—and behind it, toward bankers as mortgage lenders—has spurred a shift in US investment away from industry and toward speculation, mainly in real estate but also in the stock and bond markets. A postindustrial economy is thus largely a financialized economy that carries its debt burden by borrowing against capital gains to pay the interest and taxes falling due.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 592 | May 2010The 2008 global financial crisis was the consequence of the process (1) of financialization, or the creation of massive fictitious financial wealth, that began in the 1980s,; and (2) the hegemony of a reactionary ideology—namely, neoliberalism—based on self-regulated and efficient markets. Although laissez-faire capitalism is intrinsically unstable, the lessons of the 1929 stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s were transformed into theories and institutions or regulations that led to the “30 glorious years of capitalism” (1948–77) and that could have helped avoid a financial crisis as profound as the present one. But it did not, because a coalition of rentiers and “financists” achieved hegemony and, while deregulating the existing financial operations, refused to regulate the financial innovations that made these markets even riskier. Neoclassical economics played the role of a meta-ideology as it legitimized, mathematically and “scientifically,” neoliberal ideology and deregulation. From this crisis a new democratic capitalist system will emerge, though its character is difficult to predict. It will not be financialized, but the glory years’ tendencies toward a global and knowledge-based capitalism in which professionals have more say than rentier capitalists, as well as the tendency to improve democracy by making it more social and participative, will be resumed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira
Working Paper No. 587 | February 2010
While most economists agree that the world is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, there is little agreement as to what caused it. Some have argued that the financial instability we are witnessing is due to irrational exuberance of market participants, fraud, greed, too much regulation, et cetera. However, some Post Keynesian economists following Hyman P. Minsky have argued that this is a systemic problem, a result of internal market processes that allowed fragility to build over time. In this paper we focus on the shift to the “shadow banking system” and the creation of what Minsky called the money manager phase of capitalism. In this system, rapid growth of leverage and financial layering allowed the financial sector to claim an ever-rising proportion of national income—what is sometimes called “financialization”—as the financial system evolved from hedge to speculative and, finally, to a Ponzi scheme.
The policy response to the financial crisis in the United States and elsewhere has largely been an attempt to rescue money manager capitalism. Moreover, in the case of the United States. the bailout policy has contributed to further concentration of the financial sector, increasing dangers. We believe that the policies directed at saving the system are doomed to fail—and that alternative policies should be adopted. The effective solution should come in the way of downsizing the financial sector by two-thirds or more, and effecting fundamental modifications.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Yeva Nersisyan L. Randall Wray
Working Paper No. 567 | June 2009
An SFC Look at Financialization and Profit-led Growth
Many heterodox strands of thought share both a concern with the study of different phases or growth regimes in the history of capitalism and the use of formal short-run models as an analytical tool. The authors of this new working paper suggest (1) that this strategy is potentially misleading, and (2) that the stock-flow consistent (SFC) approach, while providing a general framework that may facilitate dialogue among those currents, is particularly well suited to all those who think that macroeconomic models may illuminate historical quests.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Claudio H. Dos Santos Antonio C. Macedo e Silva