Crisis Economics

I just finished a book of this name by Nouriel Roubini (famous for predicting the 2008 crash) and Stephen Mihn. It’s hardly a work of art, and in places quite dreadfully written (how about this for a string of cliches: “[shareholders] don’t actually have much skin in the game. They’ve put up some of the bank’s capital, but not a whole lot of it, and while they don’t want to lose their shirts, they’re fine turning a blind eye when traders roll the dice”; or this: “When things go south, traders and shareholders don’t necessarily retreat from risk. Instead, they may share a willingness to double down and bet the farm in the hopes of righting the sinking ship.”)

But the writing style is not the point. What the book does offer is a cogent analysis of the runup to the banking crisis, placed in a long historical context, and the sensible point of view that horror stories like this are always going to happen unless you regulate the banking system properly. The prescription they offer is entitled “Glass-Steagall on steroids”, and (put simply) consists of regulation (including the proper structuring of incentives), enforcement of that regulation, and breaking up the badly run and economically dangerous monster institutions that now seem to exist just for the enrichment of those who run them, with no regard to the social cost. That sounds about right to me, though I’ll add one of my own: tax the rich, so that society is seen to be fair.

It’s dismaying that the political will to do this seems to be nowhere in sight.

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