Tag Archives: Jan Hatzius

Thoughts On The Macroeconomic Impact of Goldman Sachs

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson

The influential Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius has a new research note out (with Sven Jari Stehn), “Thoughts on the Macroeconomic Impact of Basel III,” arguing that the move to raise capital standards for banks will put a serious crimp in growth in the United States – knocking 1.5 to 2 percent off gross domestic product in the next few years. Their findings are questionable, but in any case we should broaden the discussion to consider exactly how banks like Goldman Sachs affect our macroeconomic dynamics going forward – particularly if they are able to effectively lobby against higher capital. Growth based on risky banking has a tendency to prove illusory.

There are three issues. First, what is the short-term impact of raising capital requirements? Second, how should capital be increased? And third, and perhaps most important, do we really need global banks like Goldman Sachs to operate in their recent “high risk – highly variable returns” mode?

In their note, which is not in the public domain, Mr. Hatzius and Mr. Stehn are willing to acknowledge that raising capital standards can help make banks safer and that this is good for sustained growth over a sufficiently long period of time (think a decade or more), as the Bank for International Settlements suggests. But they make the case that raising capital – at least in the form that this is likely to take place – can slow growth over the next several years. Continue reading

How To Blow A Bubble

Matt Taibbi has rightly directed our attention towards the talent, organization, and power that together produce damaging (for us) yet profitable (for a few) bubbles.  Most of Taibbi’s best points are about market microstructure – not the technological variety usually studied in mainstream finance, but more the politics of how you construct a multi-billion dollar opportunity so that you can get in, pull others after you, and then get out before it all collapses.  (This is also, by the way, how things work in Pakistan.)

In addition, of course, all good bubble-blowing needs ideology.  Someone needs to persuade policymakers and the investing public that we are looking at a change in fundamentals, rather than an unsustainable and dangerous surge in the price of some assets.

It used to be that the Federal Reserve was the bubble-maker-in-chief. In the Big Housing Boom/Bust, Alan Greenspan was ably assisted by Ben Bernanke – culminating in the latter’s argument to cut interest rates to zero in August 2003 and to state that interest rates would be held low for “a considerable period”.  (David Wessel’s new book is very good on this period and the Bernanke-Greenspan relationship.)

Now it seems the ideological initiative may be shifting towards Goldman Sachs. Continue reading