Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

Bankers’ bonuses: the fish stinks from the head

copelandl- Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The awful thing about lynch mobs is they so often hang an innocent man, leaving the guilty totally untouched.  In the case of the banks, the danger is acute.  As I have already argued, hedge funds and private equity are being unfairly targeted, especially in Europe. But there is another, even less popular class which is likely to end up in the firing line, for no good reason and with consequences which could be damaging for all of us.

Broadly speaking, the banks pay 6- and 7-figure bonuses to two quite different sorts of people. First, there is a layer of what we might call technocrats: the striped-shirted traders of legend, with their loud voices and even louder dress codes, along with the managers who try to control them, the quants who invent complex trading strategies and price exotic new instruments, and a variety of others with specialised skills. Since they are rewarded in proportion to the profit they generate for their employer, which can usually be measured with considerable accuracy, their bonuses are often very large indeed. The question is: should we treat these professionals who trade on their expertise and who heavily outnumber senior management in the same way as their bosses? Not as far as I can see.

However unpopular these market professionals might be, I can see no reason whatever for intervening to limit the rewards their expertise earns for them. Arguments about “justice”, “fairness” and “ethics” are irrelevant, especially when they rely on judgements about lifestyles.

Fairness is no criterion for determining pay scales, unless we are also willing to limit the earnings of rock stars, footballers, best-selling novelists.....that is the way to the madhouse (and the collective farm).  The market sets a high price on rare skills, and in a competitive world, any attempt by a single country to restrict that price will result in it losing those skills and the business that goes with them.

Did Asperger’s help cause the crisis?

Did the financial system blow up because it was built and largely operated by people with many of the characteristics of a mild form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome?

As explanations for the crisis go, it’s on the extreme side but forms an interesting counterpoint to the “blame the looting bankers” story line.

People with Asperger’s, a mild form of autism, are characterized by, among other things, a deficit of “theory of mind,” essentially the ability to understand that other people have different beliefs or knowledge than themselves. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, has written that a lack of theory of mind left many in positions of responsibility without the ability to conceive of and guard against black swans, which are rare, high-impact and hard to predict events.

from The Great Debate UK:

Residue of the Great Recession

Drummond- Don Drummond is Chief Economist at TD Bank Financial Group. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The Great Recession is over in North America.  But repair will be a slow work in progress and great risks remain.  Many of these risks are centred on policy matters.  The recession shook our understanding of some policy matters to the core, leaving more questions than answers.

The Great Recession produced deep output and employment losses in many countries, certainly including Britain and the U.S., but also an unprecedented degree of synchronization around the globe. 

from The Great Debate UK:

A year of austerity looms in 2010

david-kuo_motley-foolthumbnail-David Kuo is director at the Motley Fool. The opinions expressed are his own.-

If you thought 2009 was as bad as things will get, then think again: 2010 could be worse. It is likely to be a year of enforced austerity with both the government and households making obligatory cuts to their budgets.

High on the government’s agenda will be reducing the Budget deficit, if the UK is to avoid the embarrassment of having its sovereign debt rating cut by rating agencies. This will have a knock-on effect on households, which could see their disposable incomes slashed by hikes in both direct and indirect taxes.

There are two possible ways for the government to reduce the Budget deficit. The first is to increase tax revenues and the second will be to slash expenditure – both of which will have an adverse impact on the economy. There is a third, which is to raise revenue through the sale of state assets. These may include the Royal Mint, the nations stake in part-nationalised banks, and anything else the Chancellor might find lurking at the back of the wardrobe.

from The Great Debate UK:

2010: the year of fiscal clean up

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- Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own. -

At the height of the financial crisis few argued against the need for a huge fiscal and monetary policy response.  As a result the global economy has moved away from the precipice.  For many governments 2010 will bring a different kind of precipice, this will be the year in which many electorates will be made to start paying for their governments’ huge fiscal binges.

Certain countries will enter this process severely disadvantaged.  Earlier this year UK debt was singled out by S&P for a possible downgrade.  This week Moody’s commented that UK debt along with that of the US will test the boundaries of its top AAA rating.

from The Great Debate UK:

When firms “Too Big to Fail” fall

Amid the turmoil of the 2008 financial crisis a myriad of events unfolded that the general public knew nothing about, writes New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin in a new book titled "Too Big to Fail."

Wall Street fell from the dizzying heights of good fortune to calamity in a matter of months. To a large degree it's still to early to tell whether financiers and politicians involved made the right choices.

"At its core 'Too Big to Fail' is a chronicle of failure -- a failure that brought the world to its knees and raised questions about the very nature of capitalism," writes Sorkin in his behind-the-scenes account.

from The Great Debate UK:

Narrow banking: reforms for the future

British economist and author John Kay argues in "Narrow Banking: the reform of banking legislation" that the financial services industry should be restructured to ensure that regulation serves the interests of the public.

"A competitive marketplace is one in which well run businesses earn profits through domestic and international competition, and badly run businesses go to the wall," he says.

"That is the process by which the market system promotes innovation and economic progress, and suppression of that process damages innovation and economic progress."

Time for a shareholder revolt

jamessaft1(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

There are encouraging signs that shareholders are becoming more assertive in defending their interests.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that some of Britain’s largest institutional shareholders – including Standard Life, Legal & General and M&G – are working on a plan to bypass investment banks by creating a club to underwrite new issues of equity by small and medium-sized British companies, a move that could save hugely on fees.

What, you may wonder, took them so long?

Second only to taxpayers, investors have been the great patsies of the financial crisis, paying massive costs to a financial services industry which has, to put it mildly, not served them well.

from UK News:

Roger Bootle throws capitalism a life preserver

Problems sparked by the financial crisis have not gone away, but have been transferred to the public sector, economist Roger Bootle posits in his new book.In "The Trouble With Markets: Saving Capitalism from Itself" Bootle argues that in large measure, the underlying cause of the financial crisis was the result of an idea that markets work, and that governments do not."Despite the trillions of dollars lost, and despite the worries of millions of people, more than this -- much, much more -- is at stake," Bootle writes. "For this crisis has delivered the killer blow to an idea that has underpinned the structure of society, framed the political debate, and moulded international relations for decades."Bootle, director of Capital Economics and an economic advisor to business accountancy firm Deloitte, reflects on the pitfalls of the corporate system and puts forth his ideas on the future of capitalism.He discussed his book and his economic predictions with Reuters at his London office.

Getting ready for the dollar’s fall

Agnes Crane It just won’t go away, this needling worry about the U.S. dollar losing its coveted top-dog status.

No matter that there are plenty of reasonable arguments to support the dollar as the world reserve currency — namely there’s just no alternative — for perhaps decades to come.

Yet, in a world where once-rock-solid assumptions quickly turn to dust, investors should keep an eye on the dollar since changing perceptions are chipping away at its cherished status as currency to the world.

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