Friday, 21 November 2008

The Origin of Financial Crises

Just a bit of recommended 'crisis' reading. This is one of the better things I have read about the financial crisis. It's a nicely-written and clearly argued case against the efficient markets hypothesis (EMH) and the argument that left to their own financial markets will tend towards equilibrium. In fact a large part of the author's motivation for writing the book seems to be to drive a stake through the heart of the efficient markets hypothesis, which he sees as fundamentally wrong (no argument here!).

As such the book is broadly pro-Keynes, and very pro-Minsky. It takes as a given Minsky's view that markets are inherently unstable and will inevitably swing between boom and bust, and that the busts can be very bad indeed if no action is taken. The suggestion is that Minksy's financial instability hypothesis should replace the EMH has our bedrock understanding of how financial markets work.

Notably this leads him query what central banks are trying to do. He is particularly scathing of Fed, which he suggests tries to combine a belief in the EMH with intervention, when logically they should preclude each other. He argues central banks should refocus their attention on credit expansion and asset price bubbles, rather than consumer price inflation. Notably he therefore believes that bubbles both exist (this might seem obvious, but it's actually an important point) and that central banks can do something about them, though in practice it's credit creation that he thinks should be monitored.

That's the headline argument, but there are lots of nicely structured points building up to it along the way. There's a great section on why even 'fundamental' company analysis on its own can fail to spot the distorting effects of bubbles.

Anyway, definely worth a read, and given that it's both very clearly-written and one of these double-spaced books you can get through it in no time.


Socialist Economic Bulletin said...

Share your high opinion of this book - particularly its insistence that theory haas to correspond to the real world, because the real world does not bother to correspond to theory. That is, the efficient markets hypothesis, with its conclusion that capital markets are inherently slf-correting and stable, has repeatedly been refuted by facts but the theologians, as opposed to scientists, in the economics profession keep recyling it. Also very good is George Cooper's drawing attention to Irving Fisher who has been unduly neglected compared to Keynes and even Minsky.
Incidentally sorry for the ignorance but Socialist Economic Bulletin has only just discovered the Capital and Labour site and has added it its list of recommended sites. Hope your readers may also be interested in SEB as there is considerable overlap in topics.

Tom P said...


thanks for link - will reciprocate and read your blog with interest.