In Foreign Affairs, Paul Romer criticizes “pretend economists” who pretend that economics—and they themselves—can answer normative questions on scientific grounds. He argues that “pretend economists” open the field to corruption.
The alternative is to make honesty and humility prerequisites for membership in the community of economists. The easy part is to challenge the pretenders. The hard part is to say no when government officials look to economists for an answer to a normative question. Scientific authority never conveys moral authority. No economist has a privileged insight into questions of right and wrong, and none deserves a special say in fundamental decisions about how society should operate. Economists who argue otherwise and exert undue influence in public debates about right and wrong should be exposed for what they are: frauds.
On his blog, John Kay speculates about the future of financial intermediation:
The paradox of modern capital markets is that although there is less and less need for market activity from the point of view of either the end users of finance, or the investors who are the ultimate beneficiaries of finance, the volume of market activity has increased exponentially. …
The growth of secondary market trading at the expense of an understanding of the underlying exposure led to disaster in the global financial crisis of 2008, just as it had earlier led to disaster at Lloyd’s. …
Standardisation is not an answer to the problem of information provision in financial markets, nor is pervasive information asymmetry successfully resolved by insistence on the provision of detailed financial information on a standardised basis, whether in company accounts or key features documents.
… it is time to raise question marks over the entire market based model of financial services provision. We should be talking about risk management and capital allocation without any presumption that markets are the best way of handling these issues.
The Economist reviews the history of finance and financial regulation, arguing that
institutions that enhance people’s economic lives, such as central banks, deposit insurance and stock exchanges, are not the products of careful design in calm times, but are cobbled together at the bottom of financial cliffs. Often what starts out as a post-crisis sticking plaster becomes a permanent feature of the system. … The response to a crisis follows a familiar pattern. It starts with blame. New parts of the financial system are vilified: a new type of bank, investor or asset is identified as the culprit and is then banned or regulated out of existence. It ends by entrenching public backing for private markets: other parts of finance deemed essential are given more state support.
The Economist identifies five major events that shaped modern finance:
Hamilton’s bank bailout in 1792.
The creation of joint-stock banks in England after the “emerging markets” crisis of 1825.
The railroad crash of 1857, global panic and the Bank of England’s stricter requirements for discount houses to hold cash.
Financial fraud and low cash holdings, the 1907 panic, the National Monetary Commission’s demand for a lender of last resort and the 1913 Federal Reserve Act establishing the (third) central bank in the US.
Recession and financial meltdown in 1929, the bank holiday of 1933, publicly funded bank recapitalization, Glass-Steagall and the FDIC.