Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Stiglitz on the Wall Sts meltdown

Stiglitz puts the blame on "a pattern of dishonesty on the part of financial institutions, and incompetence on the part of policymakers."

The present financial crisis springs from a catastrophic collapse in confidence. The banks were laying huge bets with each other over loans and assets. Complex transactions were designed to move risk and disguise the sliding value of assets. In this game there are winners and losers. And it's not a zero-sum game, it's a negative-sum game: as people wake up to the smoke and mirrors in the financial system, as people grow averse to risk, losses occur; the market as a whole plummets and everyone loses.

Financial markets hinge on trust, and that trust has eroded. Lehman's collapse marks at the very least a powerful symbol of a new low in confidence, and the reverberations will continue.

Hypocrisy of free market:

We had become accustomed to the hypocrisy. The banks reject any suggestion they should face regulation, rebuff any move towards anti-trust measures - yet when trouble strikes, all of a sudden they demand state intervention: they must be bailed out; they are too big, too important to be allowed to fail.

Eventually, however, we were always going to learn how big the safety net was. And a sign of the limits of the US Federal Reserve and treasury's willingness to rescue comes with the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, one of the most famous Wall Street names.