Publications on Systemic risk
Working Paper No. 751 | February 2013
The Fed versus the Classicals
Nineteenth-century British economists Henry Thornton and Walter Bagehot established the classical rules of behavior for a central bank, acting as lender of last resort, seeking to avert panics and crises: Lend freely (to temporarily illiquid but solvent borrowers only) against the security of sound collateral and at above-market, penalty interest rates. Deny aid to unsound, insolvent borrowers. Preannounce your commitment to lend freely in all future panics. Also lend for short periods only, and have a clear, simple, certain exit strategy. The purpose is to prevent bank runs and money-stock collapses—collapses that, by reducing spending and prices, will, in the face of downward inflexibility of nominal wages, produce falls in output and employment.
In the financial crisis of 2008–09 the Federal Reserve adhered to some of the classical rules—albeit using a credit-easing rather than a money stock–protection rationale—while deviating from others. Consistent with the classicals, the Fed filled the market with liquidity while lending to a wide variety of borrowers on an extended array of assets. But it departed from the classical prescription in charging subsidy rather than penalty rates, in lending against tarnished collateral and/or purchasing assets of questionable value, in bailing out insolvent borrowers, in extending its lending deadlines beyond intervals approved by classicals, and in failing both to precommit to avert all future crises and to articulate an unambiguous exit strategy. Given that classicals demonstrated that satiating panic-induced demands for cash are sufficient to end crises, the Fed might think of abandoning its costly and arguably inessential deviations from the classical model and, instead, return to it.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Thomas M. Humphrey
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):
Statement of Professor James K. Galbraith to the Subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology, Committee on Financial Services, US House of Representatives
Testimony, July 9, 2009 | July 2009
On July 9, 2009, Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith testified before the House Financial Services Committee regarding the functions of the Federal Reserve under the Obama administration’s proposals for financial regulation reform—specifically, the extent to which the newly proposed role of systemic risk regulator might conflict with the Fed’s traditional role as the independent authority on monetary policy. He also addressed questions of whether the Fed should relinquish its role in consumer protection, and whether the shadow banking system should be restored.
Galbraith pointed out that the Board’s primary mission is macroeconomic: “Rigorous enforcement of safety and soundness regulation is never going to be the first priority of the agency in the run-up to a financial crisis.” Systemic risk regulation needs to be deeply integrated into ongoing examination and supervision—a function best taken on by an agency “with no record of regulatory capture or institutional identification with the interests of the regulated sector.” That agency, said Galbraith, is the FDIC. If systemic risk is to be subject to consolidated prudential regulation, why not place that responsibility in the hands of an agency for which it is the first priority? Further, if large banks and other financial holding companies pose systemic risks, why not require them to divest and otherwise reduce the concentration of power that presently exists in the financial sector? In Galbraith’s view it would, over time, “bring the scale of financial activity into line with the capacity of supervisory authorities to regulate it, and the result would be a somewhat safer system.”Download:Associated Program:Author(s):