Friday, April 24, 2009

Who is to blame, bankers or economists?

From Slate:
Which profession bears more blame for the global credit meltdown and its ensuing gazillion-dollar bailouts: bankers or economists?

This isn't a trick question.

So far, bankers have been getting most of the opprobrium. ... But they couldn't have created the Dumb Money debacle without a substantial assist from economists. Toiling in government and academia, at trade groups and Wall Street firms, practitioners of the dismal science provided the intellectual ballast and justification for much of the insanity of this past decade. At every step of the way, as an Era of Cheap Money devolved into an Era of Dumb Money and then into an Era of Dumber Money, Ph.D.s led the cheers. And when things started to go bad, they failed to grasp just how bad things would get.

Bankers have clearly suffered more financial damage—they had a lot more to lose. But when it comes to reputation, I think it's a draw.
I primarily blame the economists—not all of them, but many of them. There are many banks, but only one Federal Reserve. The Fed had the ability to stop the bubble. Bankers did not. If banks A, B, and C decided not to jump on the bandwagon, they simply would have seen bank D grow much faster than them. By the time the bubble peaked, bank D would have a much larger share of the economic pie. Countrywide, for example, was minuscule a decade ago. The reason it got big was because it embraced the bubble. Banks that didn't embrace the bubble remained small.


  1. Economists generally don't have the clout to influence policy, like deregulations, bankers on the other hand have many friends in Washington. You can always blame Ayn Rand, though she was neither.

  2. Hi James,

    You should (if you haven't already) read The Origin of Financial Crises by George Cooper. I think that you would like it.

    I blame China and Japan, too. And all other countries that run structural current account surpluses against the US.

    Best, Rebecca

  3. James, if bank D didn't jump on the bandwagon, and banks A,B, and C were allowed to fail, then eventually bank D would be big, large, and sustainable.

    It's a twisted world where the imprudent are allowed to flourish while the prudent are allowed to wither. Are we surprised at the results?

    I think there are some long term policy solutions:

    1. break up the banks so that none are to big to fail.


    2. Aggressively expand investigation and enforcement of fraud at all levels


    3. Reform laws governing corporations to make it harder to have the incest between board members and the top management.

  4. The fat overindulgent American consumer is to blame.

  5. Who do you blame, the dealers or the addicts?

    The American consumer led the way of personal fiscal irresponsibility that created this disaster. Addictions to granite, exotic vacations, toys and food. Well, here we are...

  6. The question is still the same: When are going to buy guys?