Many features of our financial system—institutions like banks and insurance companies, as well as the configuration of securities markets—are a consequence of legal conventions (the rules about property rights and taxes) and the costs associated with obtaining and verifying information. When we teach money and banking, three concepts are key to understanding the structure of finance: adverse selection, moral hazard, and free riding. The first two arise from asymmetric information, either before (adverse selection) or after (moral hazard) making a financial arrangement (see our earlier primers here and here).
This primer is about the third concept: free riding. Free riding is tied to the concept of a public good, so we start there. Then, we offer three examples where free riding plays a key role in the organization of finance: credit ratings; schemes like the Madoff scandal; and efforts to secure financial stability more broadly.... Read More
Guest post by Prof. Lawrence J. White, Robert Kavesh Professor in Economics, NYU Stern School of Business
The major credit rating agencies (CRAs)—Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s (S&P), and Fitch—contributed significantly to the financial crisis of 2007-09. Their excessively high initial ratings of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) helped fuel the bubble of mortgage finance that ultimately burst, with near catastrophic consequences for the U.S. financial sector.
These disastrous failings motivated the post-crisis urge to tighten regulation of the CRAs. It’s not hard to share the (metaphorical) desire—reflected in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010—to grab them by the lapels and shout “Do a better job!”
There is, however, a better way, albeit one that is less intuitive and possibly less gratifying: namely, eliminate—or at least greatly reduce—the regulation of the CRAs. This would encourage entry into the credit rating business, stimulate innovation and, eventually, improve the efficiency of capital markets.... Read More
That overly optimistic credit ratings contributed significantly to the Great Financial Crisis is now widely acknowledged (see, for example, here and here). One welcome result has been a wave of research that highlights the influence of biased credit ratings on the real economy and identifies potential remedies. In this note, we examine stylized facts about ratings performance that emerge from this new work; discuss the economic impact of ratings; and, finally, consider remedies for conflicts of interest that contribute to the problem... Read More
If you haven’t seen The Big Short, you should. The acting is superb and the story enlightening: a few brilliant outcasts each discover just how big the holes are that eventually bury the U.S. financial system in the crisis of 2007-2009. If you’re like most people we know, you’ll walk away delighted by the movie and disturbed by the reality it captures. [Full disclosure: one of us joined a panel organized by the film’s economic consultant to view and discuss it with the director.]
But we're not film critics, The movie—along with some misleading criticism—prompts us to clarify what we view as the prime causes of the financial crisis. The financial corruption depicted in the movie is deeply troubling (we've written about fraud and conflicts of interest in finance here and here). But what made the U.S. financial system so fragile a decade ago, and what made the crisis so deep, were practices that were completely legal. The scandal is that we still haven't addressed these properly....
Angered by a foreign downing of a U.S. airliner, and frustrated by the ineffectiveness of customary retaliation, fictional West Wing President Bartlet challenged his military advisors to devise a “disproportional response” that would go beyond “the cost of doing business” to deter future attacks and make Americans safe.
Financial corruption does not put our lives directly at stake. Yet, it is easy to imagine how widespread and recurring corruption could lead a future U.S. President – frustrated by the failure of markets, regulators, and the courts to change financial intermediaries for the better – to ask her financial and legal advisors for a similar disproportional response to make Americans safe... Read More
July 21, 2014 was the fourth birthday of the Dodd–Frank Act (DFA). It is maturing faster than a human, but slower than a dog. Of the nearly 400 rules that DFA requires regulators to write, just over half have been completed. At the end of August, the SEC finished another one – regarding credit rating agencies (CRAs). The result makes us wonder what took so long... Read More