Category Archives: Capitalism

How do we eliminate wealth inequality and financial fragility?

The market turn: From social democracy to market liberalism

By Avner Offer, All Souls College, University of Oxford (avner.offer@all-souls.ox.ac.uk)

Abstract: Social democracy and market liberalism offered different solutions to the same problem: how to provide for life-cycle dependency. Social democracy makes lateral transfers from producers to dependents by means of progressive taxation. Market liberalism uses financial markets to transfer financial entitlement over time. Social democracy came up against the limits of public expenditure in the 1970s. The ‘market turn’ from social democracy to market liberalism was enabled by easy credit in the 1980s. Much of this was absorbed into homeownership, which attracted majorities of households (and voters) in the developed world. Early movers did well, but easy credit eventually drove house prices beyond the reach of younger cohorts. Debt service diminished effective demand, which instigated financial instability. Both social democracy and market liberalism are in crisis.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_149

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-01-29

Review by: Sergio Castellanos-Gamboa, Bangor University

Summary

This paper emerged from Avner Offer’s Tawney Lecture at the Economic History Society’s annual conference, Cambridge, 3 April 2016 (the video of which can be found here).

In this paper Offer discussed two macroeconomic innovations of the 20th century, which he calls “the market turn”. These are the changes in fiscal policy and financialisation that encompassed the shift  from social democracy to market liberalism from the 1970s onwards. Social democracy is understood as a fiscal innovation which resulted in the doubling of public expenditure (from aprox. 25 to 50 per cent of GDP between 1920 and 1980). Its aim was reducing wealth inequality. Market liberalism encompassed a monetary innovation, namely the deregulation of credit which allowed households to increase their indebtedness from around 50 to 150 per cent of personal disposable income, mainly for the purpose of home ownership. According to Offer the end result of market liberalism was increasing wealth inequality. See Offer’s depiction of this process in the graph below.

Two macroeconomic financial innovations in the 20th century, UK calibration. (Note: Diffusion curves are schematic, not descriptive.)

Two macroeconomic financial innovations in the 20th century, UK calibration.
(Note: Diffusion curves are schematic, not descriptive.)

Offer considers that both social democracy and market liberalism are norms captured by the single concept of a “Just World Theory” (Offer & Söderberg, 2016).The ideals behind social democracy are said to be supported by ideas found in classical economics, while the ideals behind market liberalism are said to have emerged from a redefinition of the origins and nature of economic value found in neoclassical economics. Contrasting the ideas behind social democracy and market liberalism brings about  questions such as:

  • Where does value come from?,
  • Is it from production or is it from personal preferences and demand for the good/service?,
  • What is just and fair?,
  • What do we as individuals deserve as reward?, and
  • Is there really a trade-off between equality and efficiency?

Answering any of these question is not simple and heated debates abound around them. Offer, however, rescues the idea of life-cycle dependency, where the situation of the most vulnerable individuals is alleviated through collective risk pooling rather than financial markets. According to Offer,  life-cycle dependency was the dominant approach to reducing poverty in most developed countries until the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Then collapse of the Bretton Woods accord that followed, led to the liberalization of credit by removing previous constraints. This in turn resulted in the “market turn”.

Avner Offer

Professor Avner Offer (1944). MA, DPhil, FBA. Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford since 2011.

Offer then turns to analyse the events after the collapse of Bretton Woods that led to the increase of household indebtedness while focusing on the UK. The 1970s was a very volatile decade for Britain.  For instance, oil price increases and the secondary banking crises of 1973 resulted in the highest annual increase of the inflation rate on record. Offer argues, while citing John Fforde (Executive Director of the Bank of England at that time), that the Competition and Credit Control Act 1971 was as a leap of faith in the pursuit of greater efficiency in financial markets. This Act was accompanied by a new monetary policy where changes in interest rates (the price of money) by the central bank was to bring about the control of the quantity of money. Perhaps unexpectedly and probably due to a lack of a better understanding of the origins of money, that was not the case. Previously lifted credit restrictions had to be reinstated.

Credit controls were again lifted in the 1980s. This time policy innovations went further by allowing clearing (ie commercial) banks to re-enter the personal mortgage market. The Building Societies Act 1986  allowed building societies to offer personal loans and current accounts as well as opened a pathway for them to become commercial banks (which many did after 1989 and all those societies that converted  either collapsed or were taken over by clearing banks or both). Initially and up to the crash of house prices in September, 1992, personal mortgage credit grew continuously and to levels never seen before in the UK. According to Offer, during this period both political parties supported the idea of homeownership and incentivised it through programs like “Help to Buy”. However, the rise in the demand for housing combined with the stagnation in the supply of dwellings pushed up house prices, making it more difficult for first-time buyers to become homeowners. Additionally, according to Offer, the wave of easy credit of the 1980s brought with it an increase in wealth inequality and an increase in the fragility of the financial system. As debt repayments grew as proportion of income, consumption was driven down, with subsequent effects on production and services. On this Offer opined:

“In the quest for economic security, the best personal strategy is to be rich.” (p. 17)

The paper ends with possible and desirable futures for public policy initiatives to deal with today’s challenges around wealth inequality and mounting personal credit. He argues that personal debt should be reduced through rising inflation,  a policy driven write-off or a combination of both. He also argues to reinstate a regime where credit is rationed. He states that financial institutions should not have the ability to create money and therefore the housing market funding should return to the old model of building societies. He has a clear preference for social democracy over market liberalism and as such argues that austerity should end, since it is having the exact opposite effects to what was intended.

Brief Comment

Offer’s thought provoking ideas comes at a time when several political and economic events are taking place (e.g. Brexit, Trump’s attack on Dodd-Frank, etc.) which, together, could be of the magnitude as “the market turn”. Once again economic historians could help better inform the debate. Citing R. H. Tawney, Offer opened the lecture (rather than the paper) by stating that:

“to be an effective advocate in the present, you need a correct and impartial understanding of the past.”

Offer clearly fulfils the latter, even though some orthodox economists might disagree with his inflationary and credit control proposals. As per usual his idea are a great contribution to the debate around market efficiency in a time when the world seems to be in constant distress. Perhaps we ought to generate more and better research to understand the mechanisms through which market liberalism generated the current levels of wealth inequality and financial instability that Offer describes. More importantly though, is analysing if social democracy can bring inequality down as it did in the past. In my view, however, in a world where productivity seems to be stagnated, real wages are decreasing, and debt keeps growing, it is highly unlikely that the public sector can produce the recipe that will set us in the path of economic prosperity for all.

Additional References

Offer, A., & Söderberg, G. (2016). The Nobel Factor: The Prize in Economics, Social Democracy, and the Market Turn. Princeton University Press.
(Read an excellent review of this book here)

A Gift From Europe to the World: Globalization, Capitalist Expansionism and Professional Bicycle Road Racing

The History of Professional Road Cycling

by Jean-François Mignot

Abstract:

Why did cycling become professional as early as the late nineteenth century, while other sports (such as rugby) and other sport events (such as the Olympic Games) remained amateur until the 1980s? Why are the organizers of the most important bicycle races private companies, while in other sports such as soccer the main event organizer is a nonprofit organization? To what extent have bicycle races changed since the late nineteenth century? And how does cycling reflect long-term economic changes? The history of professional road cycling helps answer these questions and understand many related phenomena. This chapter provides a long-term, historical perspective on (1) professional road cycling’s economic agents, i.e., the public, race organizers, team sponsors and riders, and the relationships amongst them; (2) cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union; and (3) professional cycling’s final product, i.e., the show of bicycle races. More precisely, the chapter mostly focuses on the history of male professional road cycling in Western Europe since the late nineteenth century. It is founded on both an analysis of quantitative time series on the Grand Tours (and, to some extent, the classics) and a review of the existing literature on the history of professional cycling, whether economic history, institutional history, cultural history, or sport history.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:hal:journl:halshs-01326719

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2016-10-02

Revised by: Stefano Tijerina, Ph.D.

The professionalization and commercialization of sports illustrates the forces of capitalism in action, as its culture and institutional structures transition from the local to the global in response to the demands of the market and the increasing interdependence among multiple private and public stakeholders. In his brief history of professional road cycling Jean-François Mignot demonstrates how the sport is transformed throughout the twentieth century as it transitioned from amateur to professional. Mignot argues that the professionalization of this sport anticipated many other international sports because the forces of capitalism pressured the athletes to abandon their amateur status early on in order to secure an income.[1] His research reveals the early infiltration of the private sector within the culture of cycling in Europe, the institutional transformation of the sport, the market’s impact on the institutional structure of bicycle racing, and its integration into the global system. Ultimately, his historic analysis allows the possibility of drawing parallels with the processes of transformation experienced by other goods, commodities, and services that adapted to the inevitable pressures of the expansion of capitalism.

tour

Jean-François Mignot’s research shows that the idea of organizing road race competitions around the commonly used bicycle emerged from the desire of newspapers across Europe to sell more newspapers through this new and creative marketing scheme. Newspapers in France, Belgium, Spain, and Italy began organizing races on public roads in the late 1800s to show the public that human and bicycles could cover vast distances across flat and mountainous terrain. As indicated by Mignot, early races of 25 to 70 hours in duration covering 250 to 400 kilometers became epic sporting events of duration and perseverance among extraordinary European athletes.[2] The media’s construct of these epic figures created the thirst for road cycling, but it was the fact that the spectator standing on the side of the road was only able to watch the spectacle for a few seconds and depended on the print media to recreate the rest of the race, that pushed newspapers into the sponsorship business. It was this interdependent relation between spectator, athlete, and newspapers that inspired the print media industry to organize these road races, hoping that races would become magnets for advertisement sales. As indicated by Mignot, “cycling fans demanded more information” and “pictures of the race,” and the race organizing newspapers were interested in supplying the demand by covering the races in detailed form as they watched circulations increase.[3]

The one-day races or “Classics” and the three-week “Grand Tours” became the backbone of professional road racing in Europe. By the 1930s newspapers had monopolized the sponsorship of the events, while fans filled the roadways accompanied by publicity caravans “that distributed product samples to spectators.”[4] Meanwhile bicycle and tire companies became the sponsors of teams, as individual riders were replaced by teams that worked on behalf of the stars that made up the top cycling teams in Europe.[5]

giroditalia

In the early stages of professionalization, cycling stars did not receive any wages and were therefore forced to secure their income through race earnings. The increase in the popularity of the sport was followed by the increase in riders’ income.[6] The interdependent relations necessary for the expansion of capitalism slowly developed; increasing sales motivated the newspapers to improve the quality of the spectacle by increase the race winnings, forcing the sponsors to offer better wages in order to recruit and maintain the loyalty of the top cyclists, ultimately attracting more fan-base that in turn attracted other secondary sponsors that turned the caravans into marketing spectacles as well. This became even more lucrative as other means of communication joined in, particularly radio and later on television.

Jean-François Mignot points out at the first three decades of the Cold War was a period of crisis for the sport in Europe, emphasizing that urbanization and the increasing sales of motorcycles forced bicycle manufacturers to decrease their team sponsorship funding and ultimately sending the salaries of professional riders in a downward spiral.[7] This, argued Mignot, forced the professional rider to seek sponsorships outside of the bicycle world.[8] The stars and their teams began to tap the “extra-sportif” market for sponsorship and this market segment was quick to capitalize on the opportunity.[9]

Jean-François Mignot points out that sponsoring newspapers and bicycle companies interested in protecting their own profit margins opposed the penetration of “extra-sportif” sponsors by trying to control the rules of the sport in order to impede their participation, but at the end the market forces prevailed.[10] This European crisis that unfolded between the 1950s and 1980s was in fact the initial era of global commercialization of the sport. Mignot’s Euro centrism impedes him from moving beyond the region’s Grand Tours and Classics, not recognizing that the “extra-sportif” sponsorships that challenged the status quo took professional cycling outside of Europe and introduced it to the rest of the world. For example, by the 1950s radio transmissions of the European races were common in distant places like Colombia where their own private sectors had replicated the European business model and established lucrative professional road races to supply the local demand for professional bicycle road racing. The first edition of the Colombian Grand Tour, La Vuelta a Colombia, was organized in 1951, and by then several local Classics like the Tunja-Bucaramanga and the Medellín-Sansón were already engrained in the Colombian cycling culture. As in the case of Europe, local newspapers like El Tiempo became interested in sponsoring the local Grand Classic as a means to increase sales and circulation, but contrary to the European distrust of “extra-sportif” sponsors, the Colombian organizers welcomed other private local sponsors including the national airline Avianca, the Bavaria brewery, Avisos Zeón and the Flota Mercante Grancolombiana.[11]

The crisis of professional bicycle road racing in Europe described by Mignot was certainly caused by a decreasing popularity of the sport and the internal struggles over the monopoly of the sponsorship and management of the sport, but it was also the market’s response to the emergence of other professional sports in Europe as well as the professional cyclist’s ability to capitalize on the globalization of the sport. It was an illustration of how, in a capitalist system, the internal saturation of a market led to the natural expansion into other global markets, as in the case of Colombia in the 1940s and 1950s.[12]

vueltaespana1960ho-1

Such was the case of French Born, José Beyaerst, the 1948 Olympic road race champion who moved to Colombia after the Second World War, winning the second edition of the Vuelta a Colombia in 1952 and later on establishing a career as the coach for the Colombian national cycling team.[13] Beyaerst would make Colombia his home, developing the professionalization of the sport and becoming a key player in what would later become one of the cycling powers of the world. The expansionism of the sport would reach all corners of the world between the 1950s and the 1980s, it was a period of crisis for Europe as Mignot points out but it was a glorious time for global professional bicycle road racing.

Television was the game-changer, spearheading the resurgence of professional cycling in Europe in the 1980s. Taking advantage of the integration of Europe, race organizers capitalized on the magic of television to attract new European audiences, redesigning the stage circuits of the Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, and the Tour de France) with the intention of tapping new urban centers that were outside of Spain, France, and Italy.[14] Television also globalized the European Grand Tours, introducing the cycling stars to the world, providing an opportunity for sponsors to reach a global audience, selling commercial air space, and as a result increasing revenues, salaries and profits for the whole sport.

Jean-François Mignot points out that the globalization of the sport also impacted the nature of cycling teams. By the 1980s the teams competing in the Grand Tours were no longer made up of Spanish, Italian, and French riders; their nationalities diversified and so did their sponsors.[15] Although Mignot highlights the fact that by 1986 the American Greg LeMond had won the Tour de France, Colombia’s Lucho Herrera had conquered the Vuelta a España (1987), the Russian Evgueni Berzin the Giro d’Italia (1994), and the Australian Cadel Evans the Tour de France (2011), he does not point out that these foreign cyclists also brought with them new local sponsors that then began to compete with European sponsors.[16] Mignot avoids talking about the American Lance Armstrong, leaving a large gap in the history of the globalization of the sport, considering that the American rider won seven consecutive Tour de France championships (1999-2005) before the US Anti-Doping Agency and the Union Cycliste Internationale stripped him from his titles after a doping scandal. Although LeMond popularized cycling racing in the United States it was Armstrong that converted it into a multi-billion dollar industry bringing in American brands such as RadioShack and Motorola into the world of cycling.

lucho-herrera-un-jardinero-que-fue-rey-montan-l-ey0_lr

Jean-François Mignot’s research illustrates how the sport expanded globally as the Western World exported the idea of the professionalization and commercialization of cycling, taking advantage of the expansion of Western culture across the world, the increasing leisure time and incomes of the global population, and the increasing communications technology that allowed viewers from across the world to connect with the live stage by stage action of the Grand Tours and the Classics. Nevertheless, his Euro centric approach impedes him from explaining how the professionalization of the sport evolved outside of Europe. Although Mignot clarified early on that his analysis centered on Europe, this approach weakened his argument regarding the globalization of the sport and its repercussion on the European construct, as foreigners began to conquer and dominate the sport as in the case of Americans Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong, or the current stars South African born Christopher Froome and the Colombian climber Nairo Quintana. The incorporation of a broader global perspective would have allowed Mignot to test whether or not the professionalization of the sport in other markets was also spearheaded by other local newspapers or if on the contrary other media and non-media-based sponsors jumped on this business opportunity. It would have also been important to identify when professionalization took place in other markets to compare whether or not the influence of the European sport transcended the borders in a timely manner or even identifying political, economic, social, and cultural factors that delayed its expansion into other global markets. Moreover, it would have been important for Mignot to link the policies of the Union Cycliste Internationale to the globalization of the sport, as well as the escalation of global competition among bicycle manufacturers, and the global competition between scientists, technological designers, and pharmaceutical industries that centered on the legal and illegal preparation of the current athlete.

[1] Jean-François Mignot. “The History of Professional Road Cycling.” HAL archives-ouvertes.fr, https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-01326719/document, June 5, 2016, p. 4.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 5.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Vuelta a Colombia Historia.” Ciclismo colombiano – La Vuelta a Colombia. April 25, 2007. Accessed November 21, 2016. http://ciclismo.al-dia.info/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Kidnapping of Lucho Herrera (and José Beyaert’s Narrow Escape”. Alps&Andes, March 2000. Accessed November 21, 2016. http://www.alpsandes.com/posts/clinginquisition.com/2013/04/the-kidnapping-of-lucho-herrera-and.html

 

[14] Mignot, “The History of Professional Road Cycling,” 5.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 6.

What about the periphery? Swedish wealth-income ratios in historical perspective

Wealth-Income Ratios in a Small, Developing Economy: Sweden, 1810–2014

by

Daniel Waldenström (Paris School of Economics and Research Institute of Industrial Economics daniel.waldenstrom@nek.uu.se)

ABSTRACT: This study uses new data on Swedish national wealth over the last two hundred years to examine whether the patterns in wealth-income ratios found by Piketty and Zucman (2014) extend to small and less developed economies. The findings reveal both similarities and differences. During the industrialization era, Sweden’s domestic wealth was relatively low because of low saving rates and instead foreign capital imports became important. Twentieth century trends and levels are more similar, but in Sweden government wealth grew more important, not least through its relatively large public pension system. Overall, the findings suggest that initial conditions and economic and political institutions matter for the structure and evolution of national wealth.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:hhs:uufswp:2015_006

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2016-10-17

Review by Anna Missiaia

 
This paper looks at the evolution of wealth-income ratios in Sweden over the last two hundred years. Wealth-income ratios have gained increasing attention as an aftermath of the release of Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty as well as the more specific paper by Piketty and Zucman (2014). The trajectory of wealth-income ratios in core economies such as the US, the UK, Germany and France shows a U-shape pattern over the last two hundred years, with a level of 600-700% of wealth over income in the 18th and 19th centuries, a low point of 200-300% in the 1970s and a subsequent increase up to 400-600% today. The U-shape is, in the interpretation of Piketty and Zucman, the consequence of the two world wars and the creation of the welfare state while in the last decades we are seeing a reversal and a “return to historical norms”. The come back of capital is potentially interesting as wealth accumulation can have different effects on the economy and the society, depending on weather the additional wealth is in public or private hands. Also, the increase in wealth relative to income poses new questions on what the optimal taxation strategy should be. In terms of the scope of this line of research, at the end of their paper Piketty and Zucman call for a further effort to cover new and non-core countries in the analysis. Identifying the components of wealth driving the increase in the ratio is also a worthwhile next step.

The work by Walderström goes in this direction in two ways. First, it looks at a “small, developing economy” such as Sweden, which represents at least part of the periphery that is missing in previous research. Moreover, it discusses to some extent the determinants of Swedish wealth in comparison with other core countries, suggesting that the composition of wealth can dramatically change the interpretation of the ratio.

The inclusion of small economies in the analysis is important because theory predicts a different evolution of wealth-income ratios during industrialization depending on the size of the country.  In particular, large economies (like the ones studied by Piketty and Zucman) are expected to increase their wealth while small economies are expected to increase capital imports. Moreover, Sweden is an excellent case-study for looking at the effect of a social democratic welfare state and its political institutions on the accumulation of national wealth.

The empirical analysis in the paper is grounded on a new body of evidence that, as it often happens with Sweden, provides very detailed information compared to other countries. In this case, the Swedish National Wealth Database (SNWD)  provides information on the household sector, the public sector and national, private and public savings following the same structure of Piketty and Zucman (2014).

farmers

Swedish farmers before the creation of the universalistic welfare-state system

The results of the paper are the following: Sweden in the 19th century had a much lower ratio (about half) compared to core countries such as the UK, France and Germany but it had a very similar level compared to the US. The author then goes on and asks whether 19th century Sweden is really comparable to the US in terms of national wealth dynamics. The answer is no. Sweden had a low ratio because of its low level of savings due to low incomes. The US had a low ratio because of a high level of income growth that was dominating wealth growth. For this reason, Sweden had to rely much more heavily on capital imports to sustain its industrialization. The 20th century shows again a much lower ratio for Sweden compared to the core countries (this time both European countries and the US alike) but the explanation lays this time in the increasing role of the Swedish Government and the creation of the well-known universalistic welfare-state system which redirected resources from private wealth to provision of public goods. In this sense, the discussion on the emergence of the public pension system, which is neglected by the analysis of national wealth in core countries by Piketty and Zucman, is most interesting. In short, the argument is that creation of a public pension system with a large share of unfunded pensions financed by taxation led to a decrease in saving for retirement and thus wealth. The figure below shows the low ratio for Sweden over the last two hudred years.

welth-income

Private welath-income ratios in comparison.

The main contribution of this work is showing that the patterns of core countries, that are often at the core of the research and speculation Piketty and coauthors, are far from being exhaustive in explaining national wealth at world level. Also, as the same wealth-income ratio can hide very different underlying structural differences, the use of a more detailed breakdown of public wealth that includes pensions is also much appreciated. On the other hand, it is clear that because of its very peculiar history (see the non-participation to the world wars and the early formation of such a strong welfare state) Sweden cannot be considered as fully representative of the entire periphery. More research on other countries is needed to capture the entire picture.

 

References

Piketty, T. (2014) Capital in the 21st century, Cambridge, MA: Belknap.

Piketty, T. and G. Zucman (2014) Capital is back: Wealth-income ratios in rich countries, 1700–2010, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129(3): 1255–1310.

Waldenström, D. (2015), Wealth-income ratios in the small economy: Sweden over the past two centuries, Vox post, http://voxeu.org/article/wealth-income-ratios-small-economies

 

 

A New Take on Sovereign Debt and Gunboat Diplomacy

Going multilateral? Financial Markets’ Access and the League of Nations Loans, 1923-8

By

Juan Flores (The Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History, University of Geneva) and
Yann Decorzant (Centre Régional d’Etudes des Populations Alpines)

Abstract: Why are international financial institutions important? This article reassesses the role of the loans issued with the support of the League of Nations. These long-term loans constituted the financial basis of the League’s strategy to restore the productive basis of countries in central and eastern Europe in the aftermath of the First World War. In this article, it is argued that the League’s loans accomplished the task for which they were conceived because they allowed countries in financial distress to access capital markets. The League adopted an innovative system of funds management and monitoring that ensured the compliance of borrowing countries with its programmes. Empirical evidence is provided to show that financial markets had a positive view of the League’s role as an external, multilateral agent, solving the credibility problem of borrowing countries and allowing them to engage in economic and institutional reforms. This success was achieved despite the League’s own lack of lending resources. It is also demonstrated that this multilateral solution performed better than the bilateral arrangements adopted by other governments in eastern Europe because of its lower borrowing and transaction costs.

Source: The Economic History Review (2016), 69:2, pp. 653–678

Review by Vincent Bignon (Banque de France, France)

Flores and Decorzant’s paper deals with the achievements of the League of Nations in helping some central and Eastern European sovereign states to secure market access during in the Interwar years. Its success is assessed by measuring the financial performance of the loans of those countries and is compared with the performance of the loans issued by a control group made of countries of the same region that did not received the League’s support. The comparison of the yield at issue and fees paid to issuing banks allows the authors to conclude that the League of Nations did a very good job in helping those countries, hence the suggestion in the title to go multilateral.

The authors argue that the loans sponsored by the League of Nation – League’s loan thereafter – solved a commitment issue for borrowing governments, which consisted in the non-credibility when trying to signal their willingness to repay. The authors mention that the League brought financial expertise related to the planning of the loan issuance and in the negotiations of the clauses of contracts, suggesting that those countries lacked the human capital in their Treasuries and central banks. They also describe that the League support went with a monitoring of the stabilization program by a special League envoy.

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Empirical results show that League loans led to a reduction of countries’ risk premium, thus allowing relaxing the borrowing constraint, and sometimes reduced quantity rationing for countries that were unable to issue directly through prestigious private bankers. Yet the interests rates of League loans were much higher than those of comparable US bond of the same rating, suggesting that the League did not create a free lunch.

Besides those important points, the paper is important by dealing with a major post war macro financial management issue: the organization of sovereign loans issuance to failed states since their technical administrative apparatus were too impoverished by the war to be able to provide basic peacetime functions such as a stable exchange rate, a fiscal policy with able tax collection. Comparison is made of the League’s loans with those of the IMF, but the situation also echoes the unilateral post WW 2 US Marshall plan. The paper does not study whether the League succeeded in channeling some other private funds to those countries on top of the proceeds of the League loans and does not study how the funds were used to stabilize the situation.

InterWar-League-Of-Nations-USA-Cartoons-Punch-Magazine-1919-12-10-483

The paper belongs to the recent economic history tradition that aims at deciphering the explanations for sovereign debt repayment away from the gunboat diplomacy explanation, to which Juan Flores had previously contributed together with Marc Flandreau. It is also inspired by the issue of institutional fixes used to signal and enforce credible commitment, suggesting that multilateral foreign fixes solved this problem. This detailed study of financial conditions of League loans adds stimulating knowledge to our knowledge of post WW1 stabilization plans, adding on Sargent (1984) and Santaella (1993). It’s also a very nice complement to the couple of papers on multilateral lending to sovereign states by Tunker and Esteves (2016a, 2016b) that deal with 19th century style multilateralism, when the main European powers guaranteed loans to help a few states secured market access, but without any founding of an international organization.

But the main contribution of the paper, somewhat clouded by the comparison with the IMF, is to lead to a questioning of the functions fulfilled by the League of Nations in the Interwar political system. This bigger issue surfaced at two critical moments. First in the choice of the control group that focus on the sole Central and Eastern European countries, but does not include Germany and France despite that they both received external funding to stabilize their financial situation at the exact moment of the League’s loans. This brings a second issue, one of self-selection of countries into the League’s loans program. Indeed, Germany and France chose to not participate to the League’s scheme despite the fact that they both needed a similar type of funding to stabilize their macro situation. The fact that they did not apply for financial assistance means either that they have the qualified staff and the state apparatus to signal their commitment to repay, or that the League’s loan came with too harsh a monitoring and external constraint on financial policy. It is as if the conditions attached with League’ loans self-selected the good-enough failed states (new states created out of the demise of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) but discouraged more powerful states to apply to the League’ assistance.

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Now if one reminds that the promise of the League of Nations was the preservation of peace, the success of the League loans issuance was meager compared to the failure in preserving Europe from a second major war. This of course echoes the previous research of Juan Flores with Marc Flandreau on the role of financial market microstructure in keeping the world in peace during the 19th century. By comparison, the League of Nations failed. Yet a successful League, which would have emulated Rothschild’s 19th century role in peace-keeping would have designed a scheme in which all states in need -France and Germany included – would have borrowed through it.

This leads to wonder the function assigned by their political brokers to the program of financial assistance of the League. As the IMF, the League was only able to design a scheme attractive to the sole countries that had no allies ready or strong-enough to help them secure market access. Also why did the UK and the US chose to channel funds through the League rather than directly? Clearly they needed the League as a delegated agent. Does that means that the League was another form of money doctors or that it acts as a coalition of powerful countries made of those too weak to lend and those rich but without enforcement power? This interpretation is consistent with the authors’ view “the League (…) provided arbitration functions in case of disputes.”

In sum the paper opens new connections with the political science literature on important historical issues dealing with the design of international organization able to provide public goods such as peace and not just helping the (strategic) failed states.

References

Esteves, R. and Tuner, C. (2016a) “Feeling the blues. Moral hazard and debt dilution in eurobonds before 1914”, Journal of International Money and Finance 65, pp. 46-68.

Esteves, R. and Tuner, C. (2016b) “Eurobonds past and present: A comparative review on debt mutualization in Europe”, Review of Law & Economics (forthcoming).

Flandreau, M. and Flores, J. (2012) “The peaceful conspiracy: Bond markets and international relations during the Pax Britannica”, International Organization, 66, pp. 211-41.

Santaella, J. A (1993) ‘Stabilization programs and external enforcement: experience from the 1920s’, Staff Papers—International Monetary Fund (J. IMF Econ Rev), 40, pp. 584–621

Sargent, T. J., (1983) ‘The ends of four big inflations’, in R. E. Hall, ed., Inflation: Causes and Effects (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, pp. 41–97

Keynes and Actual Investment Decisions in Practice

Keynes and Wall Street

By David Chambers (Judge Business School, Cambridge University) and Ali Kabiri (University of Buckingham)

Abstract: This article examines in detail how John Maynard Keynes approached investing in the U.S. stock market on behalf of his Cambridge College after the 1929 Wall Street Crash. We exploit the considerable archival material documenting his portfolio holdings, his correspondence with investment advisors, and his two visits to the United States in the 1930s. While he displayed an enthusiasm for investing in common stocks, he was equally attracted to preferred stocks. His U.S. stock picks reflected his detailed analysis of company fundamentals and a pronounced value approach. Already in this period, therefore, it is possible to see the origins of some of the investment techniques adopted by professional investors in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Source: Business History Review (2016), 90(2,Summer), pp. 301-328 (Free access from October 4 to 18, 2016).

Reviewed by Janette Rutterford (Open University)

This short article looks at Keynes’ purchases of US securities in the period from after the Wall Street Crash until World War II. The investments the authors discuss are not Keynes’ personal investments but are those relating to the discretionary fund (the ‘Fund’) which formed part of the King’s College, Cambridge endowment fund and which was managed by Keynes. The authors rely for their analysis on previously unused archival material: the annual portfolio holdings of the endowment fund; the annual report on discretionary fund performance provided by Keynes to the endowment fund trustees; correspondence between Keynes and investment experts; and details of two visits by Keynes to the US in 1931 and 1934.

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The authors look at various aspects of the investments in US securities made by Keynes. They first note the high proportion of equities in the endowment fund as a whole. They then focus in detail on the US holdings which averaged 33% by value of the Fund during the 1930s. They find that Keynes invested heavily in preferred stock, which he believed had suffered relatively more than ordinary shares in the Wall Street Crash and, in particular, where the preference dividends were in arrears. He concentrated on particular sectors – investment trusts, utilities and gold mining – which were all trading at discounts to underlying value, either to do with the amount of leverage or with the price of gold. He also made some limited attempts at timing the market with purchases and sales, though the available archival data for this is limited. The remainder of the paper explores the type of investment advice Keynes sought from brokers, and from those finance specialists and politicians he met on his US visits. The authors conclude that he used outside advice to supplement his own views and that, for the Fund, as far as investment in US securities was concerned, he acted as a long-term investor, making targeted, value investments rather than ‘following the herd’.

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This paper adds a small element to an area of research which is as yet in its infancy: the analysis of actual investment decision making in practice, and the evolution of investment strategies over time. In terms of strategies, Keynes used both value investing and, to a lesser extent, market timing for the Fund. Keynes was influenced by Lawrence Smith’s 1925 book which recommended equity investment over bond investment on the basis of total returns (dividends plus retained earnings) rather than just dividend yield, the then common equity valuation method. Keynes appears not to have known Benjamin Graham but came to the same conclusion – namely that, post Wall Street Crash, value investing would lead to outperformance. He experimented with market timing in his own personal portfolio but only to a limited extent in the Fund. He was thus an active investor tilting his portfolio away from the market, by ignoring both US and UK railway and banks securities. Another fascinating aspect which is only touched on in this paper is the quality of investment advice at the time. How does it stack up compared to current broker research?

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The paper highlights the fact that issues which are still not settled today were already a concern before WWII. Should you buy the market or try to outperform? What is the appropriate benchmark portfolio against which to judge an active strategy? How should performance be reported to the client (in this case the trustees) and how often? How can one decide how much outperformance comes from the asset allocation choice of shares over bonds, from the choice of a particular sector, at a particular time, whilst making allowance for forced cash outflows or sales such as occurred during WWII? More research on how these issues were addressed in the past will better inform the current debate.

Coinucopia: Dealing with Multiple Currencies in the Medieval Low Countries

Enter the ghost: cashless payments in the Early Modern Low Countries, 1500-1800

by Oscar Gelderblom and Joost Jonker (both at Utrecht University)

Abstract: We analyze the evolution of payments in the Low Countries during the period 1500-1800 to argue for the historical importance of money of account or ghost money. Aided by the adoption of new bookkeeping practices such as ledgers with current accounts, this convention spread throughout the entire area from the 14th century onwards. Ghost money eliminated most of the problems associated with paying cash by enabling people to settle transactions in a fictional currency accepted by everyone. As a result two functions of money, standard of value and means of settlement, penetrated easily, leaving the third one, store of wealth, to whatever gold and silver coins available. When merchants used ghost money to record credit granted to counterparts, they in effect created a form of money which in modern terms might count as M1. Since this happened on a very large scale, we should reconsider our notions about the volume of money in circulation during the Early Modern Era.

URL: https://ideas.repec.org/p/ucg/wpaper/0074.html

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2015-11-21

Review by Bernardo Batiz-Lazo

In a recent contribution to the Payments Journal, Mira Howard noted:

It’s no secret that the payments industry has been undergoing a period of enormous growth and innovation. Payments has transformed from a steadfast, predictable industry to one with solutions so advanced they sound futuristic. Inventions such as selfie-pay, contactless payments, crypto currency, and biotechnology are just examples of the incredible solutions coming out of the payments industry. However, many payments companies are so anxious to deliver “the future” to merchants and consumers that they overlook merchants that are still stuck using outdated technologies.

The paper by Gelderblom and Jonker is timely and talks to the contemporary concerns of Mira Howard by reminding us of the long history of innovation in retail payments. Specifically, the past and (in their view) under appreciated use of ledger technology (you may want to read its current application behind Bitcoin inThe Economist Insights).

Gelderblom and Jonker set out to explain high economic growth in the Low Countries during the 17th and 18th centuries in a context of scarce media to pay by cash given low coinage, recurrent debasements and devaluations. Their argument is that scarcity of cash did not force people to use credit. Instead silver and gold coins were used as a store of value while daily transactions were recorded in ledgers while translated into a “fictional” currency (“a fictive currency, money of account or ghost money”, p. 7). This provided a common denominator in the use of different types of coin. For instance they cite a merchant house in Leiden transacting in 28 different coin types.

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Gelderblom and Jonker build their argument using different sources including a re-examination of relevant literature, probates and merchant accounts. Together they build a fascinating and thought provoking mosaic of the financial aspects everyday life in the Early Modern age. One can only praise Gelderblom and Jonker for their detail treatment of these sources, including a balanced discussion on the potential limitations and bias they could introduce to their study (notably their discussion on probate data).

Comment

The use of a unit of account in a ledger to deal with multiple currencies was by no means unique to the Low Countries nor to the Medieval period. For instance, early Medieval accounting records of the Cathedral of Seville followed the standard practice of keeping track of donations using “maravadies” while 19th century Kuwaiti merchant arithmetic of trade across the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf was expressed in Indian rupees [1]. Gelderblom and Jonker, however, go a step beyond using trends in probate data to explore whether there was widespread use of credit and also, extant literature to determine the scarcity of different coins and precious metals.

As part of their arguments Gelderblom and Jonker also question the “efficiency” of the so called “stage theory of money”. This echoes calls that for some time economic anthropologist have made, as they have provided empirical support questioning notion of the barter economy prior to the emergence of money and thus pointing to the illusion of the “coincidence of and wants” (for a quick read see The Atlantic on The Myth of the Barter Economy and for an in depth discussion see Bell, 2001). The same sources agree that the Middle Ages was a second period of demonetization. Moreover, systems of weight and measures, both being per-conditions for barter, were in place by the Early Modern period in Europe then a barter or credit economy rather than the gift economy that characterized pre-monetary societies was a possible response to the scarcity of cash. Gelderblom and Jonker provide evidence to reject the idea of a credit economy while conclude that “barter was probably already monetized” (p. 18) and therefore

“we need to abandon the stage theory of monetization progressing from barter via chas to credit because it simply does not work. … we need to pus the arguments of Muldrew, Vickers, and Kuroda further and start appreciating the social dimensions of payments”.(pp. 18-19)

I could not agree more and so would, I presume, Georg Simmel, Bill Maurer, Viviana Zelizer, Yuval Millo and many others currently working around the sociology of finance and the anthropology of money.

References and Notes

Bell, Stephanie. 2001. “The Role of the State in the Hierarchy of Money.” Cambridge Journal of Economics 25 (149-163).

[1] Many thanks to Julian Borreguero (Seville) and Madihah Alfadhli (Bangor) for their comments.

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