Thursday, October 09, 2008

Useful Reading On The Financial Markets

Yes, I know that nobody wants to read anything about those markets. They're like a nightmarish version of the free marketeers' dreams: A Market Run Amok. Besides, further panic is exactly the worst possible response to the recent events, and it's very hard to read about the recent events without feeling all panicky (though remembering that even during the Great Depression the majority of workers were not unemployed might help).

In any case, there are steps that can be taken. For example, both Roubini and Krugman explain the severity of the crisis but they also explain what can be done especially this weekend when all the high-and-mighty are gathering together in Washington D.C..

Added later:

Thanks to Nancy in the comments for drawing my attention to this NYT article about Greenspan's role in the development of the markets with the ability to go totally amok. You should read it, especially the third page which discusses the way the Big Guys shot down a regulatory attempt by Brooksley Born:

Ms. Born was concerned that unfettered, opaque trading could "threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy without any federal agency knowing about it," she said in Congressional testimony. She called for greater disclosure of trades and reserves to cushion against losses.

Ms. Born's views incited fierce opposition from Mr. Greenspan and Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary then. Treasury lawyers concluded that merely discussing new rules threatened the derivatives market. Mr. Greenspan warned that too many rules would damage Wall Street, prompting traders to take their business overseas.

"Greenspan told Brooksley that she essentially didn't know what she was doing and she'd cause a financial crisis," said Michael Greenberger, who was a senior director at the commission. "Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was a little bit of the feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street."


Ms. Born pushed ahead. On June 5, 1998, Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Rubin and Mr. Levitt called on Congress to prevent Ms. Born from acting until more senior regulators developed their own recommendations. Mr. Levitt says he now regrets that decision. Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Rubin were "joined at the hip on this," he said. "They were certainly very fiercely opposed to this and persuaded me that this would cause chaos."

Ms. Born soon gained a potent example. In the fall of 1998, the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsed, dragged down by disastrous bets on, among other things, derivatives. More than a dozen banks pooled $3.6 billion for a private rescue to prevent the fund from slipping into bankruptcy and endangering other firms.

Despite that event, Congress froze the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's regulatory authority for six months. The following year, Ms. Born departed.

In November 1999, senior regulators — including Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Rubin — recommended that Congress permanently strip the C.F.T.C. of regulatory authority over derivatives.

Wow. Just wow.