Switzerland is an amazing place, not least the skiing, the chocolate, and the punctual trains. The latter is part of the country’s exquisitely maintained infrastructure: there are no potholes, and no deferred maintenance of train tracks, tunnels, airports, or public buildings. Few countries go so far, but many can take a lesson: it pays to maintain infrastructure at least so that it doesn’t fail.
We bring this up now because financial markets are telling us that it’s a very good time to build and repair infrastructure: real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates have fallen so low that it has become exceptionally cheap to finance the improvement and repair of neglected roads, bridges, transport hubs, and public utilities. Yet, in the United States, we are doing less public investment than ever: net government investment has fallen to what is probably a record low... Read More
In 1945, a group of 43 nations led by the United States, then the world’s dominant economic power, created the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now part of the World Bank Group) and the International Monetary Fund – the “Bretton Woods institutions” – to promote reconstruction after World War II. However, the global economy has evolved much faster than the operations of either the Bretton Woods institutions or some of their regional siblings like the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
What happens when official international financial institutions (IFIs) fail to respond to a changing environment? The same thing that happens to firms that stop innovating. New, more competitive institutions (firms) arise that compel them to change or – like dinosaurs – become extinct. We may be witnessing this process of creative destruction right now. Last month, a group of 57 founding nations led by China signed the articles of agreement to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with an initial subscribed capital of $100 billion… Read More
The principles for designing a safe financial infrastructure are a bit like those for making a safe bridge or building. Safety-minded engineers should design the most critical components as simply and reliably as possible. They should use shock absorbers to reduce the frequency of failures, and establish backup mechanisms to limit their consequences. Read More