Thursday, March 03, 2011

How To Reform The Global Debt Biased Economic System

Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff argues that the world’s problem has been “rooted in excessive concentrations of debt” and that the fix should focus on rebalancing debt into equity. I agree.

Mr. Rogoff writes,

But policy-induced distortions also play an enormous role. Many countries’ tax systems hugely favor debt over equity. The housing boom in the United States might never have reached the proportions that it did if homeowners had been unable to treat interest payments on home loans as a tax deduction. Corporations are allowed to deduct interest payments on bonds, but stock dividends are effectively taxed at the both the corporate and the individual level.

Central banks and finance ministries are also complicit, since debt gets bailed out far more aggressively than equity does.

I’d like to add that this is exactly why central banks exist: they have been designed to finance and bailout the government and or her agencies (mostly by inflation), aside from promoting “consumption” debt as path to economic growth. As for the latter, don’t you see the excessive focus by the mainstream on “employment” based on “consumer spending”?

And these composite policies, all this time, has favored or privileged the central bank supported banking industry cartel.

Since the political leadership (governments) has also benefited from these arrangements, then obviously even administrative or tax policies had been molded into a “debt” bias—which incidentally becomes a feedback loop mechanism (more government spending more inflationism by central banks).

And that’s how boom bust cycles have been playing out.

And as earlier discussed in The Myth Of Risk Free Government Bonds even bank capital regulatory requirements have been tilted towards incentivizing these institutions to hold on to “less risky” government debts.

That’s because institutional holdings on “short term” government securities, under Basel Accord, which were considered as “risk free”, were not required of capital in contrast to holdings of corporate bonds. So major institutions were incentivized to fund governments, from which politicians capitalized on, and which only bloated their nation’s respective fiscal balance sheets.

But the recent crisis has only been exposing the “nudity” of the fabled risk free “emperor”.

I would say that this systemic debt bias has been intrinsic for the paper money system build around the welfare-redistributive state.

And parallel to this been the unseen incentives that drives governments and their respective central banks to gain political capital (via extended tenure and via expanded government control over the political economy) by selling “something out of nothing” to voters via the welfare state—and to reemphasize, all of which have been propped up and funded by the debt based central banking system.

In other words, for the world economic-financial framework—estimated at some $200 trillion, and which have been configured or evolved around these embedded incentives—to be able to shift from a debt to equity bias, would require an overhaul of the monetary system first and the political systems next.

Otherwise, the markets, like it or not, will do the radical debt-to-equity makeover for us.

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