Friday, July 22, 2011

Capital Flows, Financial Liberalization and Bubble Cycles

Professor Arnold Kling excerpted the latest edition from the classic Charles Kindleberger book, “Manias, Panics, and Crashes

One of the themes of this book is that the bubbles in real estate and stocks in Japan in the second half of the 1980s, the similar the nearby Asian countries in the mid-1990s, and the bubble in U.S. stock prices in the second half of the 1990s were systematically related. The implosion of the bubble in Japan led to an increase in the flow of money from Japan; some of this money went to Thailand and Malaysia and Indonesia and some went to the United States....When the bubbles in the countries in Southeast Asia implode, there was another surge in the flow of money to the United States...

The increase in the flow of money to a country from abroad almost always led to increases in the prices of securities traded in that country as the domestic sellers of the securities to foreigners used a very high proportion of their receipts from these sales to buy other securities from domestic residents...It's as if the cash from the sale of securities to foreigners was the proverbial 'hot potato' that was rapidly passed from one group of investors to others, at ever-increasing prices.

Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff places the culpability of the global banking crises on financial liberalization


They write

Periods of high international capital mobility have repeatedly produced international banking crises, not only famously as they did in the 1990s, but historically.

There are vast dissimilarities between political economic conditions of today and the yesteryears to simplistically impute the causal relationship of capital mobility and banking crises.

For instance, the pre-20th century had mostly operated from precious metal based monetary system and had largely been without central banks compared to the 20th century. Also today’s era can be characterized as having assimilated the Bismarckian welfare structured state than the pre-20th century, which implies of a starkly different operating political system.

The economic environment had also been different. The pre-20th century hallmarked the transition of the agricultural epoch to the industrial age. The 20th century was the culmination of the industrial era which currently has been transitioning to the information age. There are so many many many more variables to consider.

For me, correlations like this should be meticulously scrutinized rather than just taken as “given”.

Although I won’t deny that liberalization could have been one of the many factors which may have contributed to historical episodes of banking crisis, perhaps this has not been the principal one.

However going back to the chart, one can note of the huge concentration in the incidences of banking crises (green circle) during the post-Bretton Woods; the de facto US dollar standard system of today. This comes after the Nixon Shock, a monumental event eponymous to President Nixon’s closing of gold convertibility in 1971.

The degree of concentration of banking crisis has been unprecedented when compared the cumulative interspersed banking crises of 1800-1970.

This lends credence to the “hot potato” dynamic as narrated by Robert Aliber co-author of the Charles Kindleberger’s classic.

As I have been saying here, the gamut of modern day or contemporary global bubble cycles represent as mainly the consequences of the central banking induced business cycles, the welfare state and the intensifying frictions or strains from the Triffin Dilemma that continues to plague the global fiat money system founded on the US dollar.

This “deficit without tears” paper money system which has privileged the US for the past 40 years has been unsustainable and won’t likely last (unless there would be drastic reforms on the political system).

The trend of gold prices has been showing the way.

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