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March 03, 2015


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Steven Clarke

Prof. Shiller is under no illusions about the multitude of obstacles to implementing his ideas (overcoming psychological barriers, getting the needed information etc.) as he lays out in the same book. A few paragraphs at the end of a blog post can't really handle all these.

To me, the book presents a bit of a paradox. His ideas are radical and progressive - expanding financial assets and economic security to the masses. As he puts it, though:

"Democratizing finance means drastically expanding the financial sector so that it plays a deep role in our lives."

Most radicals and progressives now see finance as an enemy and wishes to shrink the financial sector. Hence the paradox.

gastro george

Who was it said that "whenever I hear somebody proposing a new form of abstract insurance, I reach for my gun"?

From Arse To Elbow

It's not entirely accurate to say that such markets don't exist. In a limited way, both PPI and IPI provide cover for future employment uncertainty. The reason why a more extensive, career-oriented market doesn't exist is because there is no willing market maker.

The private insurance industry has no interest in pursuing this. A society-wide system would require a mandate, which would necessitate low premiums and invite state regulation to prevent excess profits or bilking. As we've seen with Obamacare, this sort of intervention will only be supported by the insurance industry if they fear greater losses due to rent-extraction by other sectors (i.e. the medical industry).

The problem then is not merely an ideological failure to envisage a pro-social market, but the refusal of government to be a market-maker other than in the context of privatisation.


Three separate thoughts.

1 ... Or, take a job which offers CPD. Add not just to your earnings but your future earnings potential.

2 There are examples of individuals monetising and derisking their future earnings potential - David Bowie did this.

3 Money isn't everything.

Deviation From The Mean

This article seems to be somewhat lacking in ambition.

For example, in the Mondragon co-operatives they haven't actually fired anyone in almost their entire history, they have a robust and successful retraining programme, among other things.

And socialists once believed that people shouldn't be tied down to one career path anyway, whatever the market indicators say.

Jacques René Giguère

Since the information about the future labor market is unknown and in fact unknowable, on what basis will the insurers offer their contracts?
Otherwise, it would be gambling, contrary to the Insurance and Gambling Act 1772, whose principles survived the test of times for good reasons...


Deviation From The Mean

Offhand, do you know what happened to the people from Fagor?

Deviation From The Mean

Ibe - around 1000 or so were relocated to companies within the Mondragon cooperative. in difficult times it really was a story of human solidarity. A capitalist firm would simply have thrown the bone into the cesspit and let people fight over it.

Mondragon swims in a capitalist sea so imagine what we could achieve without capitalist relations.

A lesson for us all.


Thanks. Iirc, they weren't legally employees and had no right to the dole.


A couple of quick objections:

1. Regardless of how efficient you believe markets are at predicting, they can't predict base don information which isn't there. You just gave a number of ways in which young people face fundamental uncertainty - how exactly can markets deal with this better than individuals if it depends on things which are completely unpredictable?

2. I would worry about speculation here. Hedge funds decide to short, I don't know, cleaners - will this have no effect on the profession? You seem to believe markets can be benign and only reflect fundamentals, rather than influencing them.


There are basically three potential long term scenarios for the future - 1) is continued economic growth like we have seen for the last 200 years or so 2) rapid economic collapse, where everyone becomes significantly poorer. 3) A Japan style long term stagnation. For the first scenario, it is largely irrelevant from a absolute sense how a young person invests - society will be so much richer due to the power of compound growth over multiple decades that even someone with no assets would be easy to support. Investing in this scenario is therefore largely about the relative ranking versus your peers, which is a zero sum game from the point of view of the country as a whole and therefore should not drive policy. In the second scenario, again your investment strategy is irrelevant since most people will be starving to death and most assets, even real property like houses, are worthless.
Only in the third scenario does investment choices matter in the sense that you would prefer your retirement to be guaranteed tuna versus a probabilistic outcome of equal chance of cat food or caviar. So I conclude you should set policy and invest as a individual assuming this scenario. In other words, avoid equities and risky investment like land, focus on cash and cash like assets, preferably inflation protected. Government bonds are a good bet too.

Luis Enrique

UE asks two good questions

on 1. I reckon the uncertainties surrounding any particular career choice resemble the uncertainties on any particular listed company on the stock market. Having to pick a single stock to hold for life would be an insanely difficult decision. Yet we have a stock market, because investors can hold more than one stock, and as time passes, information emerges, investors and prices can react. So markets can deal with uncertain futures better than individuals, in this context, because individuals are being asked to make a single big bet but markets aren't.

2. what are the mechanisms via which a hedge fund shorting cleaner futures would feed back to cleaners. If I understand correctly, cleaners would buy policies that pay out if cleaner futures fall (i.e. the are compensated if it looks like their earnings are going to fall) so if hedge funds drive down the price, cleaners benefit. Then I suppose some cleaners might take the money, decide to leave cleaning, supply of cleaners would fall, wages go up? Maybe. What if hedge funds go long, and drive clear future prices up? Cleaners don't get a payout, hedge funds will lose money if it eventually becomes clear cleaner wages are not going to rise, anybody who held then sold high would make money, where is the cost to cleaners? One scenario could be that future cleaner earnings do actually fall, but cleaner future prices were slow to reflect that, so some cleaners did not get a payout they should have, yet still paid out for the polices. So that would be a bad outcome.

But of course it's daft only to think about possible bad outcomes and ignore the possible good ones - that way you won't do things that are on net positive.

Steven Clarke

I agree with Luis on 1. Stock prices are based on essentially unknowable information about the future prospects of individual companies. The stock market harnesses the wisdom (and sometimes, admittedly, the madness) of crowds to make a better prediction than each individual.

And by holding a portfolio of shares, the risk can be diversified. An investor has eggs in many different basket, if he makes a bad bet on a single company it won't hurt him too much overall. A worker, however, will have all his eggs in their job. If that goes wrong their entire livelihood is at stake.

The idea of macro markets aims to reduce this inequality in the ability of people to manage the major risks in their lives.

Icarus Green

As a young person, I found this post fascinating.

Occupational insurance markets would be interesting if only because wage information would finally be centralised, reviewed and mediated. Employers, certainly in Ireland, but also I find here, are very hesitant to mention numbers and certainly not the numbers they give to coworkers and superiors and so forth. Such is the capitalist conspiracy to suppress the market in labour by undermining price discovery - ironic when capitalists aren't pro market isn't it?


UNUM do something similar in a way. But they're biggest asset may be their actuarial tables on the topic. Unfortunately their models may tell you more about the probability of employment ending completely rather than a slow stagnant decline in income that many occupations face in the real world.

Chris mentions making money ASAP as an optimum strategy. Thats fine. But my take is slightly different in that I'm aiming to invest in my most important asset - 'human capital' more than make oodles of money per se.


> " the government's "triple lock" "
Except that may not go on until retirement, and also that the age of collection moves up apparently to favour the boomers, meaning that youngsters may not live long enough to collect at all.


Why should young people have any confidence about their counterparties actually paying up on any futures contracts? (And where would they get the capital for bets of the size that would be necessary?) It is also so that such bets on occupational pay are not sufficient. If their occupation is a winner-take-all market (and more are becoming so) then the average (or even the median) pay may be irrelevant to them.


I'm actually a private insurance skeptic. Insurance is where you give somebody money now, for the possibility that they will pay you back for some PARTICULAR eventuality in the future. And they have a clear incentive to find some way not to pay (so keep a lawyer in your pocket).

This can work well for very low probability high payout risks, but I don't think it works well for high probability, lower payout risks. What people really need is not coverage against a multitude of difference risks (with all the management and administrative problems associated with that) but comprehensive security against all risks (so they can face the future with confidence). So why aren't you pushing your line on Basic Income here?

Luis Enrique


fwiw, I am sympathetic this idea could be a complex hammer to crack a nut better cracked by - say - BI. And yes if you haven't got any money to start with then these things aren't much help. But I don't see trust much differently from my trusting a building society to give me my savings back, and really ain't this just like a savings product, except the interest rate you are paid is tied to (say) expected earnings in your chosen career? (although that leaves unemployment risk uninsured, which may be the larger problem)

WVO House

I rarely agree with the ideas on this blog, but this is a great, great article.

People have to realize that youngsters today DO face vastly more uncertainty than their parents and grandparents.

It's easy to prove it too.

It's fairly obvious that our ability to predict the future of various jobs declines as the pace of technological change increases if we assume that technological change changes the nature of jobs (clearly it does).

It's also completely obvious that the pace of technological change has increased dramatically in the last 15/20 years.

Therefore, it is dramatically harder for people having to make career decisions now to predict which jobs will be viable and plentiful in the future than it was for people that grew up in the 50s and 60s.

This is a serious issue, especially because our educational institutions have done NOTHING to help young people deal with this rapidly increasing uncertainty.

Also, it is the people who grew up in the 50s and 60s that are making government policies right now, so it's people who never had to deal with this uncertainty that making decisions on behalf of the youngsters who are having to deal with it right now.

Really hope this article gets more visibility.


The Jews, who often faced great uncertainty in the past, tended, I am told, to concentrate on portable skills like tailoring. It seems obvious that the best course for a young person today is to look for a career that gives them portable skills and not just knowledge and skills that are particular to one employer or even one career.

They certainly shouldn't be putting their trust in insurance companies, who are, IMHO, even less to be trusted than politicians.


Luis Enrique,
no it's not the same, you know a building society will give you your money back, you (at least you should) have much less faith that an insurance firm will honour your claim or a (potentially anonymous) counterparty to a long futures contract will still be solvent when the contract is due.

Luis Enrique


people do buy life insurance. I don't think this idea would entail relying on counterparties to a futures contract, I think you'd buy it from Axa or similar. it wouldn't be like an insurance claim the provider might piss about trying to refuse, it would be like an index-linked savings product. At least, I reckon.

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