Tuesday, 28 April 2009

We've been here before, again

Another bit from The Speculation Economy. It mentions the formation of the New York Governor's Committee on Speculation in Securities and Commodities in 1908.
It was charged with determining "what changes, if any, are advisable in the laws of the State bearing upon speculation in securities and commodities, or relating to the protection of investors, or with regard to the instrumentalities and organizations used in dealings in securities and commodities that are the subject of speculation." While the Committee focused on the broad economic effects of speculation, investor protection was present as a reform theme. Despite its asserted aims, the Committee is widely understood to have been created for the purpose of forestalling more serious regulation.

The focus on the economic effects of speculation is interesting, as this is an issue that rarely gets a look in mainstream analysis of financial markets these days in my experience. Everyone knows that (for instance) portfolio turnover keeps going up, which must in aggegate be a cost, but there is no attempt to address this.

In addition the idea of setting a committee up to stifle reform has echoes today. You can bet even now there are efforts going on to head off legislative and regulatory intervention through more voluntaty code type initiatives.

UPDATE. You can download a scan of the original committee report here. There's some commentary about shorting in there which, once again, is very similar to today's debate:
Short-sellers endeavor to select times when prices seem high in order to sell, and times when prices seem low in order to buy, their action in both cases serving to lessen advances and diminish declines of price. In other words, short-selling tends to produce steadiness in prices, which is an advantage to the community. No other means of restraining unwarranted marking up and down of prices has been suggested to us.

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