Born One-Hundred Years Ago Today
30 minutes ago
I was planning to post about Matty Yglesias, using a column Thers referenced and one other. Only just now did I notice that the 'other one' was written by Ezra Klein instead. Go figure!
The question is what, if anything, comes next for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has already scored some big wins. As this graph by Dylan Byers showed, they have changed the national conversation. Income inequality is now a top-tier issue. Before Occupy Wall Street, it wasn’t.
DOJ has obtained ten convictions of senior insiders of mortgage lenders (all from one obscure mortgage bank) v. over 1000 felony convictions in the S&L debacle. DOJ has not conducted an investigation worthy of the name of any of the largest accounting control frauds. DOJ is actively opposing investigating the systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs).
In fact, high pre-crisis returns to banking had a much more mundane explanation. They reflected simply increased risk-taking across the sector. This was not an outward shift in the portfolio possibility set of finance. Instead, it was a traverse up the high-wire of risk and return. This hire-wire act involved, on the asset side, rapid credit expansion, often through the development of poorly understood financial instruments. On the liability side, this ballooning balance sheet was financed using risky leverage, often at short maturities.
There is a second, equally important, reason why the measured value-added of the financial sector in the national accounts may be seriously over-stated. We now know that the risk being taken by banks was not in fact borne by them, fully or potentially even partially. Instead it has been borne by society.
That is why GDP today lies below its pre-crisis level. And it is why government balance sheets, relative to GDP, are set to double as a result of the crisis in many countries.
Elsewhere, we have sought to estimate those implicit subsidies to banking arising from its too big-to-fail status. For the largest 25 or so global banks, the average annual subsidy between 2007-2010 was hundreds of billions of dollars; on some estimates it was over $1 trillion (Haldane 2011). This compares with average annual profitability of the largest global banks of about $170 billion per annum in the five years ahead of the crisis.