The Great Debate UK

Mental accounting – the jar fallacy

–Ian Bright is Senior Economist at ING. The opinions expressed are his own.–

When Dustin Hoffman was first starting out as an actor, struggling to make ends meet, he managed his money in a simple – but potentially financially dangerous – way.

On a tight budget with little income, Hoffman kept the money he had in separate jars for food, rent and other expenses. The story is retold in Richard Thaler and Cass Sustein’s famous behavioural economics book Nudge.

When Hoffman asked friend Gene Hackman for a loan for food, Hackman asked “why?” given there were jars filled with money. Hoffman apparently pointed to the empty money jar labelled “food”. He had no money for food despite having money there in front of him, albeit assigned to other types of spending.

from The Great Debate:

Britain’s austerity experiment is faltering

It was the Welsh sage Alan Watkins who remarked that a budget that looked good the day it was delivered to the British Parliament was sure to look terrible a week later, and vice versa. The avalanche of new information dumped by the Treasury is simply too much to grasp at a single sitting, and governments tend to bury bad news in a welter of statistics. And so it proved with finance minister George Osborne’s budget served up last week.

The immediate headlines stressed that rich Brits would pay less income tax – down from 50 percent to 45 percent – but it only took a day before even traditional Conservative cheerleaders like the Daily Mail were condemning Osborne for funding tax breaks for bankers and billionaires by stealing from those living in retirement. The paper’s cover screamed: “Osborne picks the pockets of pensioners.”

from The Great Debate:

How the Industrial Revolution created modern debt

This is an excerpt from Paper Promises: Debt, Money and the New World Order, published this week by PublicAffairs.

Consumers have always borrowed money from friends, neighbors and relatives. Merchants would not exist without credit; the habit of making debts on a “slate” in the local butcher or greengrocer was still common in the middle of the twentieth century. But the local merchant would normally offer credit only to a known, local customer; serial defaulters, or those deemed to be untrustworthy, would be refused business. In David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber’s failure to repay merchants required him to cadge off his friends.

Capitalism and democracy under threat from euro zone crisis

By Laurence Copeland. The author is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.

It takes quite a lot to make me feel sorry for politicians, especially the European variety, but I must say that Nicholas Sarkozy and particularly Angela Merkel have a right to be livid at the news that the Greek government now proposes to hold a referendum on whether they will agree to be given another gigantic dollop of aid. Having only reached agreement (of a very vague kind) at last week’s summit in the early hours of the morning, you can imagine how the French and German leaders must have felt when they discovered that their marathon negotiating sessions may all have been in vain. It seems the Greeks are now too wary of foreigners bearing gifts to accept their largesse without weeks or months of prior deliberation and debate.

Is there such a thing as a real safe haven?

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

There are traditional relationships that the financial markets respect. For example, when the markets are tanking the world wants to own safe havens like the yen, the Swiss franc, U.S. debt and gold. If volatility spikes investors go into auto-mode and are almost pre-programmed to purchase these asset classes.

But just how safe are the safe havens? Both the Japanese and Swiss authorities intervened to limit the appreciation of their currencies in recent days. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) did so first by slashing interest rates and announcing a new QE program to flood the economy with money to try and put downward pressure on the franc. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) embarked on something similar, but they directly intervened and sold yen in the markets.

from Breakingviews:

Plunging markets reflect ugly political paralysis

By Agnes T. Crane
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

Thursday's market plunge reflects, as much as anything, an ugly political paralysis. This phenomenon, rather than any particular headline, seems to have freaked out investors, sending U.S. stocks down around 4 percent at one point, Treasury yields below 2.5 percent, oil under $90 a barrel and even gold off 0.5 percent. Politicians' brinksmanship in Europe and the United States makes for great theater, but it has done little to resolve what most troubles the global economy: too much debt and no clear plan to pay it off.

U.S. debt downgrade: Who cares?

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By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

As I write this blog, it looks as though the U.S. Congress is going to pass a bill raising the debt ceiling and making modest cuts in Federal Government spending over the coming years. Although it is, quite rightly, being presented as a somewhat hollow victory for the forces of reason, there is one extremely puzzling aspect of the crisis.

It is being reported on all sides that the credit rating agencies may well downgrade U.S. sovereign debt in spite of this “happy ending” – indeed, Egan-Jones, one of the smaller agencies, cut its rating of U.S. debt some weeks ago, and there is much talk of Moody’s and S&P following suit in the very near future.

Another day, another crisis

By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

Here we go again – the same sickening feeling, as stock markets reel amid a flight to “safety”. For months, there have been worries about contagion from the Greek imbroglio, and now the nightmare seems to be coming true, as one after another the weak European economies are put to the sword.

First came Greece and Ireland, then Portugal, now it’s the big league – Spain and, even bigger, Italy (and don’t forget Belgium, an accident waiting to happen for many years now, not very important in pure economic terms, but psychologically significant as the home of the whole sorry euro disaster).

from The Great Debate:

Five ways to correct the Greek debt crisis

By Mohamed El-Erian
This piece is the English version of the one that appeared in Handelsblatt. The opinions expressed are his own.

Not a day goes by without a flood of comments on Greece and its debt problems. They seem to come from everywhere. Some are later denied while others are left to stand, accompanied by a continuous string of worrisome data. In the process, even greater disorder is gaining hold of the country’s debt markets, with credit spreads exploding in an ever more alarming fashion.

The U.S.’s big, fat political debt problem

USA-BUDGET/By Kathleen Brooks

The U.S. has practically zero chance of solving its debt problem in the foreseeable future while politicians line up to contest the 2012 Presidential elections.

We have already heard President Obama lay out his partisan cards. He called for Congress to come up with a plan to trim $4 trillion from the U.S. deficit in the next 12 years. His favoured way to do this: end tax cuts for the rich – a well versed refrain from Democrats throughout the ages.

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