Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit

Princeton University Press
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Why are banking systems unstable in so many countries—but not in others? The United States has had twelve systemic banking crises since 1840, while Canada has had none. The banking systems of Mexico and Brazil have not only been crisis prone but have provided miniscule amounts of credit to business enterprises and households.

Analyzing the political and banking history of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil through several centuries, Fragile by Design demonstrates that chronic banking crises and scarce credit are not accidents. Calomiris and Haber combine political history and economics to examine how coalitions of politicians, bankers, and other interest groups form, why they endure, and how they generate policies that determine who gets to be a banker, who has access to credit, and who pays for bank bailouts and rescues.

Fragile by Design is a revealing exploration of the ways that politics inevitably intrudes into bank regulation.

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About the author

Charles W. Calomiris is a professor at Columbia Business School and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Stephen H. Haber is a professor of political science and senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Feb 23, 2014
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Pages
584
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ISBN
9781400849925
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Banks & Banking
Business & Economics / Economic History
Business & Economics / Economics / Macroeconomics
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Big Problem of Small Change offers the first credible and analytically sound explanation of how a problem that dogged monetary authorities for hundreds of years was finally solved. Two leading economists, Thomas Sargent and François Velde, examine the evolution of Western European economies through the lens of one of the classic problems of monetary history--the recurring scarcity and depreciation of small change. Through penetrating and clearly worded analysis, they tell the story of how monetary technologies, doctrines, and practices evolved from 1300 to 1850; of how the "standard formula" was devised to address an age-old dilemma without causing inflation.

One big problem had long plagued commodity money (that is, money literally worth its weight in gold): governments were hard-pressed to provide a steady supply of small change because of its high costs of production. The ensuing shortages hampered trade and, paradoxically, resulted in inflation and depreciation of small change. After centuries of technological progress that limited counterfeiting, in the nineteenth century governments replaced the small change in use until then with fiat money (money not literally equal to the value claimed for it)--ensuring a secure flow of small change. But this was not all. By solving this problem, suggest Sargent and Velde, modern European states laid the intellectual and practical basis for the diverse forms of money that make the world go round today.


This keenly argued, richly imaginative, and attractively illustrated study presents a comprehensive history and theory of small change. The authors skillfully convey the intuition that underlies their rigorous analysis. All those intrigued by monetary history will recognize this book for the standard that it is.

The Great American Recession resulted in the loss of eight million jobs between 2007 and 2009. More than four million homes were lost to foreclosures. Is it a coincidence that the United States witnessed a dramatic rise in household debt in the years before the recession—that the total amount of debt for American households doubled between 2000 and 2007 to $14 trillion? Definitely not. Armed with clear and powerful evidence, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi reveal in House of Debt how the Great Recession and Great Depression, as well as the current economic malaise in Europe, were caused by a large run-up in household debt followed by a significantly large drop in household spending.

Though the banking crisis captured the public’s attention, Mian and Sufi argue strongly with actual data that current policy is too heavily biased toward protecting banks and creditors. Increasing the flow of credit, they show, is disastrously counterproductive when the fundamental problem is too much debt. As their research shows, excessive household debt leads to foreclosures, causing individuals to spend less and save more. Less spending means less demand for goods, followed by declines in production and huge job losses. How do we end such a cycle? With a direct attack on debt, say Mian and Sufi. More aggressive debt forgiveness after the crash helps, but as they illustrate, we can be rid of painful bubble-and-bust episodes only if the financial system moves away from its reliance on inflexible debt contracts. As an example, they propose new mortgage contracts that are built on the principle of risk-sharing, a concept that would have prevented the housing bubble from emerging in the first place.

Thoroughly grounded in compelling economic evidence, House of Debt offers convincing answers to some of the most important questions facing the modern economy today: Why do severe recessions happen? Could we have prevented the Great Recession and its consequences? And what actions are needed to prevent such crises going forward?
"The goals of financial restructuring are to reestablish the creditor-debtor relationships on which the economy depends for an efficient allocation of capital, and to accomplish that objective at minimal cost. Costs include direct costs to taxpayers of financial assistance and the indirect costs to the economy that result from misallocations of capital and incentive problems resulting from the restructuring. Calomiris, Klingebiel, and Laeven review cases in which countries used alternative mechanisms to restructure their financial and corporate sectors. Countries typically apply a combination of tools, including decentralized, market-based mechanisms, and government-managed programs. Market-based strategies seek to strengthen the capital base of financial institutions and borrowers to enable them to renegotiate debt and resume new credit supply. Government-led restructuring strategies often include the establishment of an entity to which nonperforming loans are transferred or the government's sale of financial institutions, sometimes to foreign entrants. Market-based mechanisms can, in principle, resolve coordination problems that countries face in the wake of massive debtor and creditor insolvency, with acceptably low direct and indirect costs, particularly when those mechanisms are effective in achieving the desirable objective of selectivity. However, these mechanisms depend for their success on an efficient judicial system, a credible supervisory framework and authority with sufficient enforcement capacity, and a lack of corruption in implementation. Government-managed programs may not seem to depend as much on efficient legal and supervisory institutions for their success, but in fact these approaches, in particular the transfer of assets to government-owned asset management companies, also depend on effective legal, regulatory, and political institutions for their success. Further, a lack of attention to incentive problems when designing specific rules governing financial assistance can aggravate moral hazard problems, unnecessarily raising the costs of resolution. These results suggest that policymakers in emerging market economies with weak institutions should not expect to achieve the same level of success in financial restructuring as other countries, and that they should design resolution mechanisms accordingly. Despite the theoretical attraction of some complex market-based mechanisms, simpler mechanisms that afford quick resolution of outstanding debts that improve financial system competitiveness, and that offer little discretion to governments, are most effective. This paper--a product of the Financial Sector and Operations Policy Department--is part of a larger effort in the department to study the containment and resolution of financial crises"--World Bank web site.
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