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February 11, 2016

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Alvarado

Your argument in favor of nationalization is solid. But maybe you should consider the "if banks are worse-managed in the public sector than they would be in the private" part of your reasoning. I can think of one word that summarizes my concern: populism. Banks can be used for A LOT of political quid pro quo, and the history of institutions like Fannie and Freddie are quite illustrative of this problem.

Bob

Making banks work:

http://www.3spoken.co.uk/2013/05/making-banks-work.html

Ben

Sod the shareholders. They put money with charlatans now they can lose.

Privatise the *creation* of money to stop these guys stealing from us by issuing new money way ahead of wealth creation.

An Alien Visitor

They lost £150 billion after we spent trillions mitigating their fucking losses!

But it does make sense that banks are seen as a public utility rather than a vehicle for making easy money. So nationalise the banks, anything else is plain crazy.

Donald

Alvarado,

Yes, but the same can be said of setting interest rates. You just need to be able to find institutional arrangements that are better than the profit motive.

Other benefits might include putting downward pressure on top wages.

Rich

Excuse my possibly naive comment, but isn't "The" Bank (ie. The Bank of England) already nationalized, and isn't that enough? Or to put it another way, if we nationalized the major commercial banks, the government might as well join them into a single bank (let's call it "The Bank of England" for short). Then other commercial banks would start up. So we'd be in the same situation as we are now.

gastro george

There is an argument that much of retail banking is a utility, and should therefore be nationalised. The major banks use retail banking as a hostage to ensure that they are bailed out at times of crisis. The obvious way to resolve that risk is to separate simple public retail banking from the rest, and let the casino-worshippers take the risk with the rest.

Ralph Musgrave

“However, the former would require massive share issues, which would themselves hurt stock markets.” Eh? A self-styled Marxist attaches a large amount of importance to the well-being of stock markets. Bizarre.

Ralph Musgrave

Chris’s basic argument for nationalisation seems to be that that would enable government to pour money into loss making banks or “recapitalise them” as he puts it. Two flaws in that argument: first subsidising a loss maker is a mis-allocation of resources, unless there is a very good social justification for the subsidy. Second, the fact that banks are privately owned does not stop a government pouring money into the bank industry: indeed, governments have done just that in recent years.

Ralph Musgrave

Gastro George,

I agree that banks are into the “hostage” business, as you put it. But I don’t think you’ve got it quite right. I suggest it’s money creation and storage which is the hostage.

That is, private banks create and store the vast bulk of the nation’s money supply. That means that if they screw up on the LENDING front, they can say to government, “Rescue us else a big chunk of the nation’s money supply vanishes, i.e. ordinary depositors lose their money, and there’ll be riots.” Indeed, in the 1930s before the days of deposit insurance, ordinary depositors lost $6bn as a result of bank collapses in the US.

The solution is to separate lending from money creation and storage. I.e. have government be responsible for all money creation and storage (as suggested by Milton Friedman and three other economics Nobel laureates), while LENDING is funded by equity or equity like liabilities (like bog standard corporate bonds). That way, if there’s a screw up on the lending front, lending entities do not go insolvent: all that happens is that the value of lending entity shares decline in value.

Jonathan da Silva

This tends to make me even more angry at what happened in '08. Thus for trivial sums in reality the rest of populace are fleeced and impoverished in some cases for what? A few bonuses for a few? All that QE and ZIRP for relative chump change!

"Put it this way. In the 2008 financial crisis, the US’s biggest financial institutions lost between them less than $150bn. But during the tech crash of 2000-03 investors in US stocks lost over $5 trillion."

Bob

"while LENDING is funded by equity or equity like liabilities (like bog standard corporate bonds). That way, if there’s a screw up on the lending front, lending entities do not go insolvent: all that happens is that the value of lending entity shares decline in value."

This idea that 'shareholders' will discipline banks is total nonsense. They are fragmented and have no control at all over large operations. They just collect the dividend or coupon.

Shareholders and bond holders didn't do a great job of managing the banks up to 2008, and they won't do afterwards. It requires hard regulation - which also has the added advantage of eliminating the cost of liquidity to the banks which makes loans cheaper.

Trying to do the 'market forces' trick just puts the price of borrowing sky high. Which is bad for the capital development of the economy.

Separating the payment system out onto a separate balance sheet is about the only half decent idea from the sovereign money people. That way commercial banks act as agent rather than principal. But it doesn't really matter because the central bank can inject the necessary assets into a bank shell whenever it needs to. So why have the centralisation complication when you can do the same thing via insurance and regulation?

Bob

"I agree that banks are into the “hostage” business, as you put it. But I don’t think you’ve got it quite right. I suggest it’s money creation and storage which is the hostage.

That is, private banks create and store the vast bulk of the nation’s money supply. That means that if they screw up on the LENDING front, they can say to government, “Rescue us else a big chunk of the nation’s money supply vanishes, i.e. ordinary depositors lose their money, and there’ll be riots.” Indeed, in the 1930s before the days of deposit insurance, ordinary depositors lost $6bn as a result of bank collapses in the US.

The solution is to separate lending from money creation and storage. I.e. have government be responsible for all money creation and storage (as suggested by Milton Friedman and three other economics Nobel laureates), while LENDING is funded by equity or equity like liabilities (like bog standard corporate bonds). That way, if there’s a screw up on the lending front, lending entities do not go insolvent: all that happens is that the value of lending entity shares decline in value."

I agree Ralph, but not with your solution. What is needed is asset side regulation.

glory

While Admati and Hellwig don't go far enough, and nationalizing the banks is an option, another way to go is just to kill banking:

http://blogs.reuters.com/breakingviews/2015/01/16/review-why-banking-is-flawed-and-how-to-fix-it/

It starts with an accounting distinction. Bank assets would be classified either as real, in other words claims on physical or distinct immaterial objects; or as financial, assets which appear as liabilities on the balance sheet of some other institution.

Next, regulators would ensure that financial assets were 100 percent-backed by common equity. And lastly, in a combined regulatory and accounting change, the value of a company’s real assets would have to be greater or equal to the value of the total of its liabilities.

This final fix is where the book goes beyond previous proposals to mend finance through concepts such as narrow- or limited-purpose banking. The implication of McMillan’s recommendation is that many derivatives, for which a counterparty’s losses could be infinite, would be banned. What’s more, the intended application to financial and non-financial companies alike would include shadow banking, addressing the so-called “boundary problem” of regulation that other approaches to improve the system fail to solve.

nicholas

There is an easier and more politically acceptable alternative to nationalisation. This is for the the authorities to take powers to compel banks to raise more capital via the issue of new shares( and to prevent dividend distributions and share buybacks, or takeovers) when the authorities choose, when they feel it is necessary for the good of the economy.
Andy Haldane and Carney have not woken up to the need for these powers, they are over focused on preventing banks requiring taxpayer bail-ins, rather than the impact of inadequate bank capital on the wider economy.

Metatone

I've said it before in response to Frances Coppola, but I don't see any way forward that doesn't involve separation of the basic electronic payment infrastructure from banking.

Now that could be some techno-libertarian solution like bitcoin, or it could mean nationalisation. But either way, as physical cash declines there is more and more a need to provide each person (and business?) with the means to transfer money to another entity without being locked into a potentially abusive contractual relationship with a bank.

I suppose I'm disagreeing with Ralph Musgrave here, it's not "lending" or "payment infrastructure" that gives the banks hostage power, it is both - and both will need addressing.

Bob

"Now that could be some techno-libertarian solution like bitcoin, or it could mean nationalisation. "

Please read the "Making banks work" link I posted above that addresses these issues.

Ralph Musgrave

Glory,

The system proposed in the Reuters article you link to is very similar to full reserve banking (aka narrow banking). For example, the article says “Under these rules, banks would no longer create money. Rather, independent central banks would take on that task.” That’s exactly the same as full reserve banking (advocated by Positive Money, Milton Friedman and at least three other economics Nobel laureates).

Re the suggestion that derivatives be banned, derivatives are certainly a problem, but full reserve banking in principle deals with that very neatly: anyone putting money into an entity that lends to any form of remotely risky borrower (mortgages, small businesses etc) has a choice as to what’s done with their money. If they want to place their money with something resembling an old style UK building society (which certainly does not dabble in derivatives) they can. In contrast, if they want their money to be invested in risky derivatives, they can. And if they lose all their money, s*d them.

Bob

"And if they lose all their money, s*d them."

We know what happens then. See 2008.'Market force's put up the price of money - which is bad for capital development of the economy. Derivatives, at least on things such as food, should be regulated if not banned.

Dipper

This post ignores the many real changes taking place in banking. Regulation and technology are opening up banking to a variety of different players. In the near future large parts of infrastructure will be run by organisations that have no direct exposure to lending or other banking activities. Setting up a bank from your bedroom will be possible in the same way that people can set up an airline from their bedroom (i.e. leasing equipment, and plugging into the available infrastructure). More and more organisations are setting up different ways of lending - peer to peer lending, Handlesbank setting up business-focussed lending, start-up banks etc

So which bit of banking are you intending to nationalise? And why?

gastro george

@Dipper - You ignore significant costs of entry. You have always been able to set up a bank in your bedroom. You have always been able to create your own currency. The problem is to get either known and accepted by the populace. True *some* costs of entry are reducing. But successful entrants will still require size and/or a significant public profile.

Dipper

@gastro george - lots of businesses have significant costs of entry, but that does't mean the government goes round nationalising them.

And the costs are coming down, by design.

Once again, which bit of banking is different? And why does that bit need nationalisation?

Dipper

Just to bang on about this, Governments are introducing a series of regulations that are producing a radical shift in the way banking operates. The left should take a keen interest in these changes as they address a key criticism of capitalism.

The central problem in banking was conflict of interest between banks as risk-takers and banks as providers of services to clients. Governments have moved to eliminate this. Under MIFID II Banks have to have a pricing policy that delivers fair prices to consumers and does not allow favouritism. These prices have to be generally available in electronic trading venues where clients take the best rate from competing banks, and the banks have to clear these trades and post collateral against them.

The net result is banks are paid for the effectiveness with which they deliver banking services, not for the spreads they take or the risks they run.

This should remove an occurrence of organisations exploiting positions in the supply chain to extract profits greater than the economic value of their service at the expense of other businesses. It is quite clear that this approached can be applied to many other industries such as utilities, insurance, etc.

The left like to argue that under capitalism entrenched cartels can exploit others to their own advantage. The regulations are an interesting example of markets being constructed and regulated to avoid this outcome. Leftists should be taking a great interest in this, but so far have failed to engage.

nicholas

Dipper,
This is why banking is different: Banks have a macro-economic role in connecting savers with borrowers, that other companies do not have. If banks are in aggregate under capitalised, there may be in-sufficient total lending which will push the country into recession. If, say, supermarkets were under-capitalised, there might be long queues at the checkouts, higher grocery prices, big supermarket profits, but still a healthy economy.

Dipper

@ Nicholas

But banks are messengers? They make decisions based on the rules and the state of the market, and the rules are in the governments control. If the government wants to increase lending then it needs to change the rules?

nicholas

Dipper,
They make decisions based on the rules, the state of the market, and their own financial positions. If they have just lost a shitload (like in 2008) even if the market for making new loans is profitable, they may not be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities and their may be a shortage of new loans. In a super efficient market, new banks would be created in bedrooms with billions of pounds of capital to take up these opportunities. Unfortunately, bedrooms get used for other activities instead, the opportunities go unexploited and economies go into recession. Nationalisation is one answer; I dont like it but prefer forced recapitalisation.

marc

nice example of choosing dates to fit your hypothesis! Why the great jump from 73 to 89? (As if the Berlin Wall had anything to do with bank risk taking & capitalisation).

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