Wednesday, November 11, 2009
New Open Forum
Excerpt from Jeremy Grantham:
Yes, of course every country needs a basic financial system to function effectively with letters of credit, deposits, and check writing facilities, etc. But as you move beyond that it is worth remembering that every valued job created by financial complexity is paid for by the rest of the real economy, and talent is displaced from real production, as symbolized by all of the nuclear physicists on prop trading desks. Viewed from the perspective of the long-term well-being of the whole economy, the drastic expansion of the U.S. financial system as a percentage of total GDP in the last 20 years has been a drain on the health and cost structure of the balance of the real economy. To illustrate this point, in 1965 the financial sector of the economy took up 3% of the GDP pie. The 1960s were probably the high water mark (or one of them) of America’s capitalism. They clearly had adequate financial tools. Innovation could obviously have occurred continuously in all aspects of finance, without necessarily moving its share of the economy materially over 3%. Yet by 2007 the share had risen to 7.5% of GDP!
The financial world was reaching into the GDP pie and taking an unnecessary extra 4%. Every year! This extra rent is enough to lower the savings and investment potential of the rest of the economy. And it shows. As mentioned earlier, the growth rate of the GDP had been 3.5% a year for a hundred years. It had proven to be remarkably robust. Even the Great Depression bounced off it, and soon GDP growth was back on the original trend as if the Depression had never occurred. But after 1965, the growth of the non-financial slice, formerly 3.4%, slowed to 3.2%. After 1982 it dropped to 3.1% and after 2000 fell to well under 3%, all measured to the end of 2007, before the recent troubles. These are big declines. It is as if a runner has a growing and already heavy blood sucker on him that is, not surprisingly, slowing him down. In the short term, I realize that job creation in the financialindustry looked like a growth driver, as did the surge in financial profits (which we now realize were ludicrously overstated). But in the long term, like a sugar high, thisstimulus was temporary and unhealthy.
The financial system was growing because it could. The more complex and confusing new financial instruments became the more “help” ordinary citizens needed from the experts. The agents’ interests were totally unaligned with the principle/clients’ interests. This makes a mockery of “rational expectations” and the Efficient Market Hypothesis, which assumes (totally unproven, as usual) equivalent and perfect knowledge on both sides of all transactions. At the extreme, this great advantage in knowledge and information held by the financial agents has the agents receiving all the rewards, according to the recent work by my former partner, Paul Woolley, and his colleagues at the Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. (With a great name like that their job is half done before they start.)
Shake the Disease
Say Goodbye to Wall Street