Views I toy with but do not (yet?) hold

Financial panics and economic crises are nearly inevitable, for at least two reasons.  The first is that policymakers are ill-informed and have poor incentives.  The second is that bank managers, periodically, like to take risk and we are unwilling to shoot or otherwise severely punish the failed ones.  Instituitions which transform liquidity can, sooner or later, find a way to take such precarious risks, no matter what the regulators do (it still may be worth trying regulatory restraint, however).  There's simply not enough downside risk in a wealthy, humane society.

The nineteenth century financial panic will prove the "norm" for human history.  The research question is how we avoided such panics for 1950-S&L crisis, or whatever you take the cut-off points to be.  The capital controls of Bretton Woods may be part of the answer (plus that is a strange economic period in a number of ways), although it is not obvious such controls could be made to work today.

More and more, people will turn to the wisdom of the great 19th century economists on financial panics, bank runs, and the like.  It was an intellectual mistake to think we had ever left that world for good.

I thank Benjamin Chabot and Mario Rizzo for useful conversations on this topic.  Bill Easterly offers related remarks, as does Paul Krugman.


Comments for this post are closed