Challenging the Role of Capital Adequacy using Historical Data

Bank Capital Redux: Solvency, Liquidity, and Crisis
By Òscar Jordà (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and University of California Davis), Bjorn Richter (University of Bonn), Moritz Schularick (University of Bonn) and Alan M. Taylor (University of California Davis).

Abstract: Higher capital ratios are unlikely to prevent a financial crisis. This is empirically true both for the entire history of advanced economies between 1870 and 2013 and for the post-WW2 period, and holds both within and between countries. We reach this startling conclusion using newly collected data on the liability side of banks’ balance sheets in 17 countries. A solvency indicator, the capital ratio has no value as a crisis predictor; but we find that liquidity indicators such as the loan-to-deposit ratio and the share of non-deposit funding do signal financial fragility, although they add little predictive power relative to that of credit growth on the asset side of the balance sheet. However, higher capital buffers have social benefits in terms of macro-stability: recoveries from financial crisis recessions are much quicker with higher bank capital.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/nbrnberwo/23287.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-05-07

Review by Tony Gandy (London Institute of Banking and Finance)

In 1990-1991 I started a new job, having nearly completed my PhD (which I fully admit I took longer than it should). I joined The Banker, part of the Financial Times group, and proceeded to cover bank statistics, research and bank technology (the latter being a bit of a hobby). Thanks to the fine work of my predecessor, Dr. James Alexander, we had been through a statistical revolution and had revamped our Top 1000 listings of the world’s biggest banks, moving to a ranking based on capital rather than assets. This was the zeitgeist of the moment; what counted was capital, an indicator of capacity to lend and absorb losses. We then also ranked banks by the ratio of loss absorbing capital to total assets to show which were the “strongest” banks. We were modeling this on the progress made by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in refocusing banking resilience on to this important ratio, so called capital adequacy and the acknowledging the development and launch of the original Basel Accord.

All well and good, the role of capital was to absorb losses. It seemed on the face of it, that whichever bank had the most capital, and which ever could show the best capital adequacy ratio was clearly the most robust, prudent and advanced manager of risk and the one able to take on more business.

As the years progressed, Basel 1.5, II, 2.5, III and, arguably, IV have each added to or detracted from the value of capital as a guide to robustness. However, the principle still seemed to stand that, if you had a very large proportion of capital, you could absorb greater losses making the bank and the wider economic system more robust. Yes, OK there were weaknesses. Under the original Accord, only the only risk being worries about was credit risk and in only a very rudimentary way. This seemed odd given that one of the events which led to the Basel Accord was the failure and subsequent market meltdown caused by the failure of Bankhaus Herstatt [1] (Goodhart 2011), but it was hard to see how that was in isolation a credit event. Nevertheless, through all the subsequent crises and reforms to the Basel Accords, the principle that a higher proportion of quality capital to assets held by a bank was a good thing.

Jordà, Richter, Schularick and Taylor challenge the assumption that greater capital adequacy can deflect crisis, though they do find that higher initial capital ratios have a great benefit in the post crisis environment. In this working paper, Jordà et al. create a data set focusing on the liability side of bank balance sheets covering a tight definition of Common Equity Tier 1 capital (paid up capital, retained profit and disclosed reserves), deposits and non-core funding (wholesale funding). This is a powerful collection of numbers. They have collated this data for 14 advanced economies from 1870 through to 2013 and for three others for a slightly shorter period.

One note is that it would have been interesting to see a little more detail on the sources of the data used. Journal papers and academic contributions are acknowledged throughout, but other sources are covered by “journal papers, central bank publications, historical yearbooks from statistical offices, as well as archived annual reports from individual banks”. Bank statistics can be a complex area, some sources have sometimes got their definitions wrong (one annual listing of bank capital had an erratum which was nearly as long as the original listings, not mine I hasten to add and maybe my memory, as a rival to that publication, somewhat exaggerates!), so a little more detail would be useful. Also, further discussion of the nature of disclosed reserves would be interesting as one of the key concerns of bank watchers in the past has been the tendency of banks to not disclose reserves or their purposes.

Jordà et al.’s findings are stark. Firstly, and least surprisingly, bank leverage has greatly increased. The average bank capital ratio in the dataset shows that in early period it hovered at around 30% of unadjusted assets, falling to 10% in the post war years and more recently hovering around 5-10%.

image1

Source: Jordà et al. (2017)

Next, they consider the relevance of capital adequacy as a protection for banks and a predictor of a banking system’s robustness; does a high, prudent, level of capital reduce the chances of a financial crisis? The authors note the traditional arguments that higher levels of capital could indicate a robust banking system able to absorb unexpected losses and thus reducing the chance of a financial crisis, but also note that high capital levels could equally indicate a banking system taking greater risks and therefore needing greater amounts of capital to survive the risks. They find no statistical link between higher capital ratios and lower risk of systemic financial crisis, indeed, they find limited evidence that it could be the reverse. It’s worth noting a second time: Increasing capital ratios do not indicate a lower risk of a financial crisis

The authors do note, however, that high levels and rapidly increasing loan-to-deposit ratios are a significant indicator of future financial distress. Clearly, funding a bubble is a bad idea, though it can be hard to resist.

However, capital can have a positive role. The paper finds that systems which start with higher levels of leverage (and consequently lower capital ratios) will find recovery after a crisis harder as banks struggle to maintain solvency and liquidate assets at a greater rate. Thus, while a high capital adequacy ratio may not be a protection against a systemic crisis, it can provide some insight into the performance of an economy after a crunch as banks with higher capital ratios may not face the same pressure to sell and further deflate asset prices and economic activity. Therefore, capital can have a positive role!

image2

Source: Jordà et al (2017)

I won’t pretend to understand fully the statistical analysis presented in this paper, however, while many, including those at the Basel Committee, have recognised the folly of tackling only prudential control through a purely credit risk-focus on capital adequacy and have introduced new liquidity, leverage and scenario planning structure to deflect other routes to crisis. Nevertheless, Jordà et al. provide a vital insight into what is still the very core of the prudential control regime: the value, or not, of capital in providing protection to banks and banking systems. Its role may not be what we expected, its value being in a post-crisis environment and not a pre-crisis environment where higher requirements could have been expected to head-off problems. Instead they find that it is credit booms and indicators of them, such as rapidly rising Loan to Deposit ratios which are better indicators of looming crisis, and capital is more relevant to making brief the impact of an unravelling bubble.

On a more practical note, this fascinating paper offer those who teach prudential regulation to bankers or students a wealth of data and challenges to consider, a welcome resource indeed.

Notes:

[1] The other main response was the more appropriate formation of the first netting services and then the Continuously Linked Settlement Bank as a method of improving operations to remove the risk which became known as “Herstatt Risk”.

References
Goodhart, Charles (2011) The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision: a history of the early years, 1974–1997. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK

 

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The Data We Have vs. the Data We Need: A Comment on the State of the “Divergence” Debate (Part II)

How Well Did Facts Travel to Support Protracted Debate on the History of the Great Divergence between Western Europe and Imperial China?

By: Kent Deng (London School of Economics), Patrick O’Brien (London School of Economics)

Abstract: This paper tackles the issue of how reliable the currently circulated ‘facts’ really are regarding the ‘Great Divergence’ debate. Our findings indicate strongly that ‘facts’ of premodern China are often of low quality and fragmented. Consequently, the application of these ‘facts’ can be misleading and harmful.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/77276.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-03-19

Review by: Kenneth Pomeranz (University of Chicago)

(continued)

Comparative Consumption

 

This brings us, finally, to consumption.  As noted at the beginning of this comment, I agree that this is the most promising area for future research that might illuminate comparative living standards.  It is hard to know where really definitive data would come from: since the Chinese state did not systematically tax any major consumer goods except salt, and very little that ordinary people used was imported, we are unlikely to find data anywhere near as reliable as what we have for liquor, sugar, tobacco, etc., in various European countries.  Nonetheless, it is not that hard to imagine data that would help us make some progress in this area.[1]  And the area where O’Brien and Deng concentrate here – calories from grain – is, of course, fundamental, and there are various ways to generate estimates.  (It should be noted, however, that in unequal societies, the grain consumption of the poor is likely to be a lagging indicator of overall economic divergence –changes in the lives of the first and second quartiles of the income distribution could produce significant differences in average incomes well before the food intake of the poor in one society began to significantly outpace that of their counterparts in another.)  Thus, I applaud the attempt to see what we can learn by focusing on estimates of poor people’s incomes in kilocalories.  I have strong doubts, however, about the conclusion that Deng and O’Brien reach about this matter.

First, it is worth noting that various estimates have been made, which suggest that at least in this area, Chinese poor people (and perhaps some others elsewhere) were no worse off than their Western European counterparts. I have discussed several of them elsewhere, and little would be served by repeating that effort here.[2] 

O’Brien and Deng disagree, and rely upon a paper they published  in Journal of World History (2015).  That paper takes estimates of the likely income from a typical-sized tenant farm in the 18th-19th century Yangzi Delta, as calculated by Philip Huang, Robert Brenner and Christopher Isett, Robert Allen, and myself, and suggests that they converge upon a range of likely incomes that falls considerably short of the incomes of English laborers at the same time. I do not think that that is the most reasonable inference to be drawn from this data.

As they note in their current publication, I wrote to O’Brien and Deng after their  paper was published, largely agreeing with their methodology but questioning their data.  They apparently do not think the difference over data is important, since quickly continue “Nevertheless, these procedure provided us with figures for levels and changes in the standard of living for peasant households in Jiangnan from circa 1600 to circa 1829.” This, I think, misses the significance of the disagreement on data, which is easily stated.  Allow me to quote from the letter I wrote at the time, adding only some boldfaced type for emphasis, and a few explanations of reference in square brackets::

    “…    The key is Row 3 [of Table 4, pages 248-253]: ‘Area cultivated: mu,’ where you suggest that Huang, Brenner and Isett and I all accept an average farm size of 7.5 mu.  Brenner and Isett, of course, simply accepted Huang’s figure: they were all working together,  Brenner reads no Chinese and Isett (B and H’s student) had never worked on the Yangzi Delta.  So that is really one assertion that the farm size was 7.5 mu.  In your notes to that row you suggest that I also accept that figure; there is no direct citation for that point, but earlier you cite my “Facts Are Stubborn Things” essay.   But here’s what I wrote there, referring back to my essay in the first round of our debate [that is, my debate with Huang] (“Beyond the East-West Binary):

‘  …while I accepted Huang’s average farm size of  7.5 mu for purposes of our initial discussion, this  prevailed (if at all) only in the Delta’s most crowded prefectures, where people mostly grew cotton or mulberries.  The larger Delta I discuss had 59,000,000 registered cultivated mu circa 1770, or 10.5 mu  per 5-member farm family. [1]   This confirms Li Bozhong’s estimate that mid-Qing Jiangnan farms averaged 10 mu…’

 

And indeed, the 7.5 mu figure seems very unlikely to be right.  Consider, just for starters, that the sources you cite for 1820 give farm sizes of either 9.0 or 10 mu (depending on what definition one uses for Jiangnan);  it is widely agreed that there was no new land cleared in Jiangnan after the mid-18th century (further intensification took the form of more double-cropping), and while population figures are not very reliable, there was almost certainly some increase.  (Cao Shuji’s figures (2000, 5:691-92)  suggest a 38% increase from 1776 to 1850, with the rate of increase faster in the earlier years,  for instance; I think that is probably too high, but you see the point.) It thus seems pretty implausible that farmed acreage per family would have been anywhere from 1/6 to ¼ less in 1750 than it would be 70 years later.

Since I think you [Deng and O’Brien] have accurately reported the other figures in your table, the consequences of this one change would be quite significant.  Using 10 mu per family for 1750 would raise the estimate of caloric income in my data from 2,438 to 3,251; using 10.5 raises it to 3,413.  Thus, instead of more or less agreeing with Brenner and Isett, my numbers come to be 30-40 % above theirs – and over 80% above Huang’s (rather than about 33%). Perhaps more importantly, if you turn to your table 6, making this change would mean that instead of having a rough consensus on Jiangnan caloric intake that had already fallen a bit below English farm laborers (if one assumes they ate wheat) or significantly behind them (if they ate oats), you would be back to two views: one based on Huang’s data, that suggested what I have just said, and one which placed the caloric intake of Jiangnan farmers even with English farm laborers if they consumed oats, and still well ahead of them if they consumed wheat.  Significant divergence on this particular measure (admittedly one that lagged others) would be pushed well into the 19th century.  (In fact, if we accept Li or Allen’s work, as summarized in your column for 1800-1849, it would still not have happened in that period.).The difference is therefore quite significant…”

 

Moreover, I would add,  the adjustment I suggested in this missive would sharply alter the picture of change over time in the Yangzi Delta, yielding a more likely picture that has different comparative implications.  Without the correction, Deng and O’Brien’s data suggest a fairly sharp decline in living standards between 1600 and 1750, with a recovery to roughly 1600 levels by 1829.[3]   This, however, seems unlikely, since it was widely agreed that 1750 was near the middle of a prosperous era, while 1829 was (as already noted) part of an era of crisis.  (Whether the 1620s were part of a good period or not is less settled.[4] )     If we instead adjust the 1750 farm size figures as I have suggested, we have a probable improvement of living standards between 1620 and 1750 (perhaps even a large improvement), followed by either stasis or decline between 1750 and the 1820s; this would be much more in line both with the testimony of contemporary voices and the views of most historians.  And if that is right, it would also fit the picture of an East/West divergence  that came late but gathered steam quickly: not only because first Britian and then other parts of Northwestern Europe surged, but because the most prosperous parts of China began to fall into crisis.

Obviously, we would like comparisons of living standards, even among the poor, to go beyond caloric intake; and attempts have been made, by a number of us, to look quantitatively at cloth, sugar, tea, and a few other goods, and more impressionistically at tobacco, various forms of entertainment, and so on.   But for the time being, those discussions are nowhere near consensus; and in the world of the late 18th century, basic calories still loomed quite large in any case.  And there, I would respect, correcting the error noted above suggests that the balance of available research still suggests comparability until quite late. (Huang’s numbers have other serious problems, which I have discussed elsewhere.[5])    Until we get beyond basic calories in discussing the poor – and get much better estimates, on the Chinese side, of the distribution of income,[6] so we know more about what comparisons of the poor do and do not tell us, our picture of comparative consumption will remain quite inadequate for settling our debates, even if it remains the most promising area for further research; and as long as our understanding of consumption remains so inadequate, I would be loath to shut the door on the other approaches that Deng and O’Brien encourage us to abandon.

Bibliography


Allen, Robert.  2000. “Economic Structure and Agricultural Productivity in Europe, 1300 – 1800,” European Review of Economic History 4:1 (April, 2000),

Allen, Robert. 2004. “Mr. Lockyer Meets the Index Number Problem: The standard of Living in Canton and London in 1704,”  July 2004, available at http://www. iisg.nl/hpw/papers/allen.pdf, accessed December 7, 2008

Allen, Robert. 2009a. The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Allen, Robert. 2009b. “Agricultural Productivity and Rural Incomes in England and the Yangzi Delta, ca. 1620-1820,” Economic History Review 62:3 (August), pp. 525-550.

Allen, Robert et.al., 2011.  Robert Allen, Jean-Pascal Bassino, Debin Ma, Christine Moll-Murata, and Jan LuitenVan Zanden, “Wages, Prices and Living Standards in China 1738-1925: In Comparison with Europe, Japan, and India,” Economic History Review 64:1 (February), pp. 8-38.

Baten, Joerg. et al.  2010.  Joerg Baten, Debin Ma, Stephen Morgan and Qing Wang, “Evolution of Living Standards and Human Capital in China in the 18th – 20th Centuries: Evidences From Real Wages, Age-Heaping, and Anthropometrics,” Explorations in Economic History 47, pp. 347-359.

Benedict, Carol. 2011.  Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China 1550- 2010. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Brenner, Robert and Christopher Isett. 2002. “England’s Divergence from the Yangzi Delta: Property Relations, Microeconomics, and Patterns of Development,” Journal of Asian Studies 61:2 (May), pp. 609-662.

Broadberry, Stephen, Hanhui Guan and David Daokui Li. 2014. “China, Europe, and the Great Divergence: A Study in Historical National Accounting, 980 – 1850,” http://eh.net/eha/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Broadberry.pdf.

 

Chang Chung-li (Zhang Zhongli). 1962. The Income of the Chinese Gentry.  Seattle: University of Washington Press.Deng, Kent G., and Patrick K. O’Brien. 2015. “Nutritional Standards of Living in England and the Yangtze Delta (Jiangnan), circa 1644 – circa 1840: Clarifying Data for Reciprocal Comparisons,” Journal of Wor;d History 26:2 (June), pp. 233-267.

Guan Hanhui and David Daokui Li.  2010. “Mingdai GDP ji jiegou shitan,” (A Study of  GDP and its Sturcture in China’s Ming dynasty),” Zhongguo jingji jikan 9:3 (April), pp. 787-829,   http://en.cnki.com.cn/Article_en/CJFDTotal-JJXU201003003.htm
Huang, Philip. 1990. The Peasant Family and Rural Development in the Lower Yangzi Region, 1350-1988.  Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Huang, Philip C.C.  2002a. “Development or Involution in Eighteenth Century Britain and China?  A Review of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy,”  Journal of Asian Studies 61:2 (May), pp. 501-538.

Huang  Philip. C.C.  2003. “Further Thoughts on Eighteenth-Century Britain and China: Rejoinder to Pomeranz’s Response to My Critique,” Journal of Asian Studies 62:1 (February), pp. 157-167.

Lal, Deepak. 1998. Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factor Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance.  Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998.
Landes, David. 1998.  The Wealth and Poverty of Nations.  New York: Norton.

Lee, James, Cameron Campbell and Wang Feng. 2002. “Positive Check or Chinese Checks?” Journal of Asian Studies 61:2  (May), pp. 591-607.

Li Bozhong and Jan Luiten Van Zanden. 2012. “Before the Great Divergence? Comparing the Yangzi Delta and the Netherlands at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Economic History 72:4 (December), pp. 956-989.

Li Wenzhi and Jiang Taixin, 2005.  Zhongguo dizhu zhi jingji lun (Essays on the Chinese Landlord Economy). Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe,

Liu, William Guanglin. 2015.  The Chinese Market Economy 1000-1500,  Albany: State University of New York Press.

 Ma,Debin. 2004. “Modern Economic Growth in the Lower Yangzi in 1911-1937: a Quantitative, Historical, and Institutional Analysis” (Discussion paper 2004-06-002, Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development, Tokyo.

Maddison, Angus. 2001.  The World Economy: A Millenmial Perspective.  Paris: OECD.

Maddison, Angus. 2003. The World Economy: Historical Statistics. Paris: OECD.

 

Moll-Murata, Christine. 200. “Chinese Guilds from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Centuries: An Overview,”  International Review of Social History 53, Supplement, pp. 213-247.

 

Morgan, Stephen. 2004.  “Economic Growth and the Biological Standard of Living in China 1880-1930,” Economic and Human Biology 2:2

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2000.  The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2002 “Beyond the East-West Binary: Resituating Development Paths in the Eighteenth Century World,”  Journal of Asian Studies 61:2 (May, 2002), pp. 539-590.

Pomeranz, Kenneth.  2003“Facts Are Stubborn Things: A Response to Philip Huang,”  Journal of Asian Studies  62:1 (February, 2003).: 167-181.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2006.  “Standards of Living in Rural and Urban China: Preliminary Estimates for the Mid-18th and Early 20th Centuries.”  Paper for Panel 77, World Economic History Congress, Helsinki.

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2011. “Development with Chinese Characteristics?” Convergence and Divergence in Long-Run and Comparative Perspective.” European University Institute (Florence) Max Weber Programme, Working Paper 2011/06.

 

Pomeranz, Kenneth. 2013. “Skills, Guilds, and Development: Asking Epstein’s Questions to East Asian Institutions,” in Maarten Prak and Jan Luiten van Zanden, eds., Technology, Skills, and the Pre-Modern Economy in the East and West: Essays Dedicated to the Memory of S.R. Epstein  (Leiden: E.J. Brill), pp. 93-127.

 

Rawski, Evelyn.  1972.  Agrarian Change and the Peasant Economy of South China.  Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

 

Xue Yong. 2006. . “Agrarian Urbanization: Social and Economic Changes in Jiangnan from the Eighth to the Nineteenth Century” Yale University Ph. D. dissertation.

Yang Guozhen, Ming Qing tudi qiyue yanjiu  (Research on land contracts in the Ming and Qing)  Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1988,

Zhang Peiguo. 2002.   Jindai Jiangnan xiangcun diquan de lishi renleixue yanjiu. (A Historical Anthropology of Rural Village Land Rights in Jiangnan.)  Shanghai: Renmin chubanshe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See Benedict 2011:49, lending cautious support to my conjecture that tobacco acreage stagnated or declined between the late 18th and early 20th centuries, greatly reducing per capita output (and thus allowing us to use early 20th century figures to conservatively approximate 18th century consumption).  Thomas Rawski has suggested that we could approach this issue more rigorously if we found a long run of tobacco prices to compare with those for grain: something which hasn’t happened yet, but is certainly possible.

[2] See Pomeranz 2000:36-40,Pomeranz 2002, and Pomeranz 2003.. See also Lee, Campbell and Wang 2002. More recent work on height, longevity, etc., is largely restricted to the 19th and 20th centuries, and has little to say about the Yangzi Delta in particular, but tends to suggest that the parts of China that are represented in the data were at or above the middle of a European distribution in the early 19th century.  See for instance Morgan 2004; Baten et. al. 2010..

[3] This effect is partly the result of the choice of data discussed here, but it is also partly the result of the fact that the data for 1600 and 1829 include estimates from Li Bozhong, who tends to be optimistic in his view of Delta conditions, while the section of the table for 1750 does not; at the same time, Philip Huang, the most pessimistic of the scholars in this debate, is cited in the 1750 section of the table, but not in the other two.

[4]For a recent overview that takes a relatively dour view of the late Ming (though it does accept that it represented a very significant recovery from ehat it considers a catastrophic early and mid-Ming), see Liu 2015.

[5] Pomeranz 2002, 2003.

[6] I made an extremely quick and crude attempt in Pomeranz 2003.  An earlier and partial attempt is Chang 1955.

The Data We Have vs. the Data We Need: A Comment on the State of the “Divergence” Debate (Part I)

How Well Did Facts Travel to Support Protracted Debate on the History of the Great Divergence between Western Europe and Imperial China?

By: Kent Deng (London School of Economics), Patrick O’Brien (London School of Economics)

Abstract: This paper tackles the issue of how reliable the currently circulated ‘facts’ really are regarding the ‘Great Divergence’ debate. Our findings indicate strongly that ‘facts’ of premodern China are often of low quality and fragmented. Consequently, the application of these ‘facts’ can be misleading and harmful.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/77276.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-03-19

Review by: Kenneth Pomeranz (University of Chicago)



Kent Deng and Patrick O’Brien have done us all a service by taking a step back from the conclusions drawn by different participants in the so-called “great divergence debate” to focus  on the types and quality of our data, and on some conceptual problems with the application of modern measurements such as GDP to economies that were radically different from ours – in part because they were incompletely monetized.  I find myself agreeing with most of their criticisms of both GDP and real wage comparisons, and have some of my own to add. Not surprisingly, then, I share their preference for research on comparative consumption – which was a big part of my approach in The Great Divergence – and agree that this is where we have the best prospects for making further progress on these issues.  But I am not as ready as they seem to be to completely discard approaches based on GDP or real wage estimates; and perhaps more importantly, I would significantly modify their assessment of where our discussion of consumption and popular living standards currently stands.

We are, quite simply, unlikely to find any data that is good enough to lay these disputes  to rest.  I agree that the chances of finding significantly better consumption data are higher than are our chances of finding everything we would need to construct truly persuasive GDP estimates, and that the problems with treating wages as representative of living standards in a society like 18th century China are quite severe,  even if we could resolve the more narrowly empirical problems with the wage data themselves (e.g. unstated but significant in-kind components, differences in the currencies in which Chinese wages and prices are often quoted, uncertainty about the length of the “day” in day wages, and so on).  But at the moment, the consumption data also have significant problems; so while this may well be where we want to concentrate future research efforts, that  does not mean that this is the only metric we should be tracking as we make our best guesses about the current state of this controversy.  (We could, of course, theoretically all agree not to comment on this controversy until we  know more, but that seems unrealistic, given how many other issues it touches upon.)   So I would be inclined to keep the wage data, and even the GDP estimates, in play in this discussion, even though I share Deng and O’Brien’s sense that the consumption data are stronger (and even though those data are more favorable to the position I took in my 2000 book).  Let me briefly review each of these areas.

 

Comparative GDP Estimates

 

I would not disagree with Deng and O’Brien’s critique of the GDP approach, or of Maddison’s figures in particular: the latter were based on far too narrow an evidentiary base for much of the world and much of history.  I think, however, it is worth noting that there have been some more recent attempts to estimate GDPs, which have the advantage both of somewhat better data and of attempting to construct GDP figures for the Yangzi Delta, rather than for China. Given the points that some of us have made repeatedly about the vastly different scales of China and any single European nation, and about the advantages of comparing the most developed region of a continent-sized China with the richest regions of Europe rather than insisting on national units, these numbers seem to be worth at least some attention.
For instance, a recent paper by Stephen Broadberry, Hanhui Guan and David Daokui Li suggests that Britain must have overtaken the Yangzi Delta in per capita GDP by the first quarter of the 18th century.[1]  This is, of course, materially different from my claim in The Great Divergence that the Yangzi Delta had not fallen significantly behind until well into the second half of the 18th century, and maybe not until 1800 (though my conclusions were based on estimates of consumption, longevity, and basic human well-being, rather than GDP).  Nor has this paper found a way around all the problems with historical GDP and comparisons between very different societies to which Deng and O’Brien have pointed.(These include the radically different market baskets of these two societies, which had relatively little trade between them, the very different degree to which the government tracked various kinds of production, and others; to which I would add, large differences in the degree to which various goods and services passed through the market.)  Still, I would not want to simply discard such work, given the difficulties that dog other approaches. Moreover, I think it is noteworthy that a debate between an early and a late 18th century divergence represents a considerably different intellectual landscape than the one we would have if we relied on Maddison’s GDP numbers,[2] or on the non-quantitative work of David Landes, Deepak Lal, and various others – or for that matter, on an earlier attempt by Guan and Li to estimate comparative GDPs, which had previously claimed that a huge gap already existed in the 15th century.[3]  An earlier paper by Debin Ma suggested that the per capita GDP of the Lower Yangzi  — which he defines slightly more broadly than I do, so that it includes some poorer areas – probably exceeded that of China in general by about 50% in 1750:[4] such an adjustment, patched onto Maddison’s data, would leave the Delta behind Britain, but by considerably less (in percentage terms) than, say, Germany lags Norway today, or the U.S. lags Luxembourg (when nobody argues that this makes either Germany or the U.S. a “backward” economy fundamentally different from the “advanced” ones, as we used to think China was relative to early modern Europe.). Similarly, a study by Li and Van Zanden, based on data for the 1820s, finds Holland well ahead of two counties in the Delta for which there are particularly good data in those years; but as  they note, the 1820s were a period of both agricultural crisis due to natural disasters and depression in the cloth trade, the second biggest sector of that region.  They suggest that if we had data for 1800, it would show a smaller gap, but still a significant one, with Holland perhaps 50 or even 70% higher in per capita GDP.[5] Admittedly, that is far from the rough parity I had originally suggested at 1800, and would now be inclined to put at somewhere around 1750 instead; there are some plausible adjustments that I think would narrow the gap further, but that is not really the point for now.  Instead I would emphasize that despite continuing disagreements and continuing data problems – the latter of which will probably never be fully solved – we have made some progress in narrowing the range of plausible answers about when and how much divergence occurred in these terms.  Even if GDP is a seriously flawed measure for purposes of this debate, I am not sure we want to throw it out entirely.

Real Wage Comparisons

The wage data is similarly vexed, and Deng and O’Brien have, I think, explained very convincingly some reasons for skepticism.  But let me add two more, extend the discussion of another, and suggest a possible implication of how we might read this imperfect data in conjunction with the even more imperfect GDP data.

The first additional cause for skepticism in Robert Allen’s own reconstruction of real wages based on prices and wages recorded by the supercargo of an East India Company ship docked in Guangzhou during the trading season of 1704.  Using the same basic approach as he and his co-authors use on the larger data set they compiled a bit later, Allen arrives at the conclusion that the real wages here were roughly equal to those in London at the same time – and Guangzhou, it is generally agreed, was not quite as wealthy as the Yangzi Delta.  (Allen 2004).  Let me make clear that I am not saying that these data give the correct picture,  and the other data a false one: there are certainly reasons why the Guangzhou data could be unrepresentative.[6] But these are at least prices and wages that we know were actually paid by individuals in private markets, and that should be relatively free of unreported in-kind benefits.  (Chinese workers would certainly not have lived on a British ship, and are unlikely to have eaten British food.) By contrast, the Chinese data in the later and better-known 5 author paper on early modern wages around the world are from administrative reports of prevailing wages, with no evidence that the reporters actually made any sort of survey, and no data at all on in-kind compensation.  I would thus not be quick to throw out the Guangzhou material just because it is a smaller database – and that it gives a figure which is so much higher than those derived from the other data seems lke a good reason to doubt the data overall.  There is also something highly suspicious about the lack of difference between the wage rates for different parts of China in the administrative data, when every qualitative source we know of agrees that there were very large regional differences in material living standards.  Again, this is not sufficient reason to discard these data when we have so few; on the contrary, they represent the best large-scale data set that we have, and the authors have used them to make interesting claims.  But I think we need to be very careful about how we use them for this particular debate.

It is crucial that most Chinese did not rely on wages for their income – as O’Brien and Deng note.  But we also know quite a bit about  the likely relationship between these wages and peasant earnings.  All our evidence suggests that tenant farmers earned a great deal more than agricultural laborers, even if the latter were able to find year-round employment. This conclusion is confirmed whether we look at estimates of money earnings, convert wages into cash and compare to farm yields net of rent and other expenses, or consider key social indicators – including the especially lowly status of wage laborers, and the fact that most tenants were able to marry and raise families, and most agricultural laborers could not.[7]  And in a society without strong guilds or unions, there is no reason to think that unskilled wages in town would be much higher than in the countryside.  (This would be particularly true in the Yangzi Delta, where towns were very densely distributed across the map, so that almost any rural resident could bid for an unskilled job in a town without going very far.[8] )  Indeed, in the admittedly limited data we have, the difference between the earnings of a farmer with an average-sized tenancy and a wage laborer are on the order of 2.5 – 3.0:1.  Under the circumstances, wages are a very poor guide to popular living standards: and comparing them to wages in England or Holland, where proletarians made up a large portion of the labor force by the 18th and especially the 19th century, represents a comparison between the bottom of the income distribution in one place and something approaching to middle in the other. [9]

But even if these wages do not tell us much about comparative living standards, they might nonetheless tell us something about trends in comparative labor productivity. Significantly, estimates of rural incomes and rural labor productivity suggest that the Yangzi Delta was still on a par with England and Holland on these measures even as late as the 1820s.[10] This would place it far above the rest of Europe – including, of course, a number of countries that began mechanized industrialization and sustained per capita growth well before China did.[11]  Delta agriculture was also still well ahead in total factor productivity in agriculture as late as 1820.[12] When taken together with the evidence already discussed which suggests a relatively late divergence, and therefore a fairly sudden widening of the gap once it manifested itself  – since nobody doubts that it was quite large by the mid-19th century – this would at least suggest that we should not probably be looking at agriculture to explain the divergence.  It also suggests, as Robert Allen has argued in his discussion of British industrialization, that it was higher wages in the growing urban sector that pulled up rural wages, necessitating labor-saving innovations in agriculture, rather than agriculture creating an enlarged urban work force by shedding workers on its own.[13]  It does not appear that urban demand exerted a comparably strong effect on rural Chinese wages, even though the barriers to rural-urban migration – whether in the form of exclusionary institutions or urban dis-amenities – were comparatively weak in Qing times;[14] instead, the most likely reason not to leave was that, as noted above, most rural people earned far more than unskilled wage laborers in either city or countryside, and nothing was pushing up urban wages fast enough to overcome this disincentive.  A significant gap in urban real wages – if confirmed by further studies that can more fully overcome the problems described by Deng and O’Brien – might then be significant not as a sign of a difference in living standards that already existed, but as a sign of urban changes in Europe that were beginning to create such differences.

(to be continued…)

Notes

[1] Broadberry, Guan and Li 2014..

[2] Maddison 2001: 42, suggesting that Western Europe overtook China ca. 1300.

[3] Guan and Li  had previously argued (2010) that China was far behind by the 15th century, if not earlier, and had fallen even further behind over the succeeding centuries. See also Landes 1998, Lal 1998.

[4] Ma 2004. Compare Maddison 2003: 262.for an interpellated UK figure.

[5] Li and Van Zanden 2012:973,

[6] It is true, for  instance, that not every Chinese worker in Guangzhou was able to offer his services to the  foreigners who docked there, perhaps reducing competition and driving up wages.  Bt quite a few could – numerous memoirs from foreigners who visited Guangzhou in this period speak about foreigners being besieged by crowds of potential porters and other service providers. Nor is it clear why any restrictions would have driven up the price of labor more than it did that of the many kinds of provisions for which Lockyer records prices paid, and which Allen uses to create the denominator of his real wage.

[7] I review some of this data in Pomeranz 2006, and Pomeranz 2011. On the strength of tenant rights, which helped make this income differential durable, see  for instance Rawski 1972 Li Wenzhi and Jiang Taixin 2005;Yang Guozhen 1988; Zhang Peiguo 2002.

[8] On the distribution of towns across space see Xue Yong 206: 319, and 302-346, 432-475 for a discussion of various estimates of urbanization in the Yangzi Delta more generally.

[9] Pomeranz 2011.

[10] Allen 2009b; Li and Van Zanden 2012.

[11] For intra-European comparisons, see Allen 2000..

[12] Li and Van Zanden 2012:975; Allen 2009b.

[13] Allen 2009a.

[14] On Chinese guilds in this period, see Moll-Murata 2009, Pomeranz 2013. Though our data is thus far inconclusive, China does not appear to have had a pronounced “urban graveyard effect” – that is clear evidence of worse health and higher mortality in cities, providing a disincentive to migration that had to be overcome by significant wage differentials, as was the case in early modern and industrializing Europe.

Contingencies of Company Law: On the Corporate Form and English Company Law, 1500-1900

The Development of English Company Law before 1900

By: John D. Turner (Queen’s University Belfast)

Abstract: This article outlines the development of English company law in the four centuries before 1900. The main focus is on the evolution of the corporate form and the five key legal characteristics of the corporation – separate legal personality, limited liability, transferable joint stock, delegated management, and investor ownership. The article outlines how these features developed in guilds, regulated companies, and the great mercantilist and moneyed companies. I then move on to examine the State’s control of incorporation and the attempts by the founders and lawyers of unincorporated business enterprises to craft the legal characteristics of the corporation. Finally, the article analyses the forces behind the liberalisation of incorporation law in the middle of the nineteenth century.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/zbwqucehw/201701.htm

Ditributed by NEP-HIS on: 2017-02-19

Review by Jeroen Veldman (Cass Business School, City University)

 

The article provides an overview of the development of English company law in the four centuries leading up the 20th century, showing how five key legal characteristics, i.e. separate legal personality, limited liability, transferable joint stock, delegated management, and investor ownership developed.

What may be most striking about Turner’s account is the way in which it shows the contingency of the development of these distinct concepts and the configurations in which they appear. As Woodward (1985a: 12), quoted by Turner, says it is “shocking how non-laissez-faire are the roots of the corporation – a quintessentially laissez-faire institution”. Turner shows how James I needed the money from corporate charters, as they provided an attractive source of revenue for the Crown that allowed to bypass Parliament. (Turner, 2017: 5), making the grant of such corporate charters the object of an ongoing war between Crown and Parliament in the 16th and 17th Century. Subsequently, he shows how the Bubble Act in the 18th Century was not so much a means to keep companies from forming, but rather  a means “… to limit alternative investment opportunities so that capital would be diverted towards shares in the South Sea Company.” (Turner, 2017: 8).

eastindia

Arms of the East India Company (New York Public Library. Digital ID: 414409). Retrieved from http://www.victorianweb.org/history/empire/india/eastindia.html.

The contingent development of company law is also apparent in the use of corporations as an important instrument for colonial administrative organization overseas and the use of trading monopolies as a key instrument in foreign policy (Turner, 2017: 5). Furthermore, the establishment of specific Companies, such as the Bank of England in 1694 was pivotal for the lending of money to the State, and the raising and administration of the public debt (Turner, 2017: 9). The conceptual development of the modern corporation was thus connected to and contingent upon the simultaneous development of ideas about sovereignty, the state, and the representation of group rights and obligations (Kantorowicz, 1997; Maitland, 2003).

Turner then shows how the further development of the corporation in the 19th century is driven largely by the growing power of an emerging enriched middle class looking for outlets and protection for its investment. The development of the five key legal characteristics provided an architecture for the public corporation that functioned as an excellent vehicle to accommodate the wealth accruing to this new class, as it allowed to drop managerial obligations and to focus on a liquid share market instead (Ireland, 1996 and 1999; Veldman and Willmott, 2017).

Turner concludes by saying that “…the common law judiciary in the 18th and 19th centuries was extremely conservative and did not respond in a dynamic fashion to the new business environment which had arisen” (Turner, 2017: 22). His account therefore shows how, contrary what is commonly believed in the law and economics debate, common law did not develop as a highly dynamic and pragmatic practice-following type of law. What Turner convincingly shows, then, is that the development of English Company Law started to change from the 19th century, that this development led to development and acceptance of the five key legal characteristics and that the specific configuration of these elements that come together in the modern corporation. He also shows how the changes in English Company Law that allowed for these elements and their configuration were related to the institutionalization of particular political and economic interests.

In relation to the contingent development of the elements and configuration that make up the core characteristics of the modern corporation that Turner describes we may ask a number of questions of the specific model of the modern corporation that was developed during the 19th century and which still provides a template that is very much followed worldwide.

The first question is whether we can imagine a coherent alternative, in which the elements and their configuration had developed differently. Can we imagine limited liability, perpetuity, transferable joint stock with fully paid up shares and a secondary share market, the removal of ultra vires, separate legal personality, the development of delegated and professional management, rentier investment by shareholders with a shielded position largely external to the architecture of the modern corporation and, later, the development of holding companies and transnational operations as the outcome of the institutionalization of legal privileges for specific groups? And can we still imagine the institutionalization of these privileges as contingent and conditional?

The second question is whether we can rethink the presumed optimality of the current configuration of the corporation. It may be argued that the arrangements developed for the modern public corporations were developed in a specific political and economic context that provided a strong background for the development of ideas about minority shareholder protection at the time (Freeman et al., 2011; Johnson, 2010), for instance. The question is, how the specifics of that configuration relates to more recent changes in the corporate governance environment, such as the phenomenal rise of institutional and activist investors, increases in foreign ownership and high frequency trading, and the development of transnational group structures.

More specifically, we may consider that the development of the elements and configurations of the core characteristics of the modern corporation have had large effects on subsequent macro-economic developments (Chandler, 2003; Hannah, 2010), and continue to impact on the distribution of social wealth (Ireland, 2005). Turner observes that “The evolution of corporate law after 1900 … was chiefly concerned with resolving the agency problems which arose out of conflicts created by the coming together of these characteristics, i.e., shareholders vs. managers, shareholders vs. shareholders, and shareholders vs. other constituents (e.g., creditors and employees).” (Turner, 2017: 3). Considering that the present configuration that defines the modern corporation is based on the interests of an emerging class of rentier investors in the mid-19th century we may need to consider whether those agency problems have been sufficiently resolved and whether the specific configuration that developed during the 19th century still delivers an optimal configuration for all parties involved in corporate governance arrangements and outcomes (Veldman et al., 2016).

In the light of the description of the contingent nature of the development of company law and corporate governance theory, it is interesting to note that Turner chooses to describe the development of ‘the corporate form’ and its five key characteristics as an almost teleological process in which “the evolution of company law in England up to 1900 was all about the struggle to enable business enterprises to have all five of the core structural characteristics outlined above” and that this evolution was hampered by “the efforts of the legal system and the political elite to stifle the development of particular characteristics during most of this era.” (Turner, 2017: 3). Such a teleological approach to the development of company law has been criticized more broadly as naturalizing the development of existing corporate governance configurations into a necessary or optimal end point, and ignoring the development of company law as the institutionalization of particular interests (Ireland, 2005; Johnson, 2010).

Turner’s account provides all the necessary ingredients to engage with the development of the five key legal characteristics and their configurations as the result of the capacity for countervailing powers to engage in the corporate governance debate. In this light, the continuous absence of particular characteristics and configurations in the debate pre-19th century can be viewed, not as the ‘stifling’ of a necessary or optimal ‘evolution’, but rather as the result of a different configuration of interests. Such a view of the development of the elements and configuration that make up the modern corporation as a contingent and interest-inflected development makes an interesting contribution to the current debate on corporate governance, and allows to relate the debate on the historical institutionalization of these choices to current debates on the broad opportunities and risks that are associated with choices about the institutionalization of privileges, rights and obligations for specific groups in a theory of corporate governance (Veldman and Willmott, 2016).

 

References

Chandler, A. D. (2002). The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.

Freeman, M., Pearson, R., & Taylor, J. (2011). Shareholder democracies?: Corporate Governance in Britain and Ireland before 1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hannah, L. (2010). The Rise of the Corporate Economy. Oxon, UK: Routledge.

Ireland, P. (1996). Capitalism without the Capitalist: the Joint Stock Company Share and the Emergence of the Modern Doctrine of Separate Corporate Personality. The Journal of Legal History, 17(1), 41–73.

Ireland, P. (2005). Shareholder Primacy and the Distribution of Wealth. Modern Law Review, 68(1), 49–81. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2005.00528.x

Ireland, P. (1999). Company Law and the Myth of Shareholder Ownership. Modern Law Review, 62(1), 32–57. http://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2230.00190

Johnson, P. (2010). Making the Market: Victorian Origins of Corporate Capitalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kantorowicz, E. H. (1997). The King’s Two Bodies : A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton ; Chichester: Princeton University Press.

Maitland, F. W. (2003). State, Trust and Corporation. (D. Runciman & M. Ryan, Eds.) Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Turner, J. D. (2017). The Development of English Company Law before 1900 (No. 2017–1). Belfast: Queen’s University Centre for Economic History. Retrieved from https://www.econstor.eu/handle/10419/149911

Veldman, J., & Willmott, H. (2016). The Cultural Grammar of Governance: The UK Code of Corporate Governance, Reflexivity, and the Limits of “Soft” Regulation. Human Relations, 69(3). http://doi.org/10.1177/0018726715593160

Veldman, J., Morrow, P., & Gregor, F. (2016). Corporate Governance for a Changing World: Final Report of a Global Roundtable Series. Brussels and London: Frank Bold and Cass Business School.

Veldman, J., & Willmott, H. (2017). The Corporation in Management. In G. Baars & A. Spicer (Eds.), Critical Corporation Handbook. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, S. (1985). The Struggle for Fungibility of Joint-Stock Shares as Revealed in W.R. Scott’s Constituion and Finance of English, Scottish, and Irish Joint-Stock Companies to 1720 (No. 377). UCLA Economics Working Papers. UCLA Department of Economics. Retrieved from https://ideas.repec.org/p/cla/uclawp/377.html

 

Is the Glass Half Full?: Positivist Views on American Consumption

Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages

By Bruce Sacerdote (Darmouth)

Abstract: Despite the large increase in U.S. income inequality, consumption for families at the 25th and 50th percentiles of income has grown steadily over the time period 1960-2015. The number of cars per household with below median income has doubled since 1980 and the number of bedrooms per household has grown 10 percent despite decreases in household size. The finding of zero growth in American real wages since the 1970s is driven in part by the choice of the CPI-U as the price deflator; small biases in any price deflator compound over long periods of time. Using a different deflator such as the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (PCE) yields modest growth in real wages and in median household incomes throughout the time period. Accounting for the Hamilton (1998) and Costa (2001) estimates of CPI bias yields estimated wage growth of 1 percent per year during 1975-2015. Meaningful growth in consumption for below median income families has occurred even in a prolonged period of increasing income inequality, increasing consumption inequality and a decreasing share of national income accruing to labor.

URL: http://EconPapers.repec.org/RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23292
(Click here for a free download version)

Distributed by NEP-HIS on:2017-04-23

Revised by: Stefano Tijerina (Maine)

Contrary to the popular outcry that the gap between rich and poor in the United States has steadily increased since the 1960s and that the quality of life has steadily deteriorated, Bruce Sacerdote argues that the picture is not as grim and that the steady rise of household consumption for households “with below median income” is evidence that the national economy has continued to thrive for all U.S. citizens and not just those on the top.[1] In “Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages” Sacerdote reveals that the focus on wage growth favored by economists and policy makers impedes us from focusing on other aspects of growth, such as consumption and the quality of consumed goods.[2] From his perspective focusing on real wage growth and the inflated rates of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) only tells half of the story and that it is therefore necessary to center on consumption data in order to construct a more holistic picture of the economic realities of the below median income household.[3] From his perspective, “low income families have seen important gains in at least some areas of consumption” thanks in part to a steady growth in consumption of 1.7 percent per year since 1960.[4]

Bruce Sacerdote adjusted the CPI to the bias corrections developed by Dora Costa and Bruce Hamilton who previously worked on similar questions, looking at “the true costs of living” and new ways of estimating “real incomes” in the United States.[5] His findings for the period between 1960 to 2015 concluded that there was an increase of 164 percent in consumption for those below the median household income.[6] A previous consumption measure for the same period of time, excluding the bias measures from Costa and Hamilton, showed a 62 percent increase in consumption.[7] A third measurement that calculated real wages using the Federal Reserve’s Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) for the same period of time reversed the claims of wage stagnation furthered by some economists, policy makers, citizens, and labor union advocacy groups. This last measurement showed that when using the PCE to deflate nominal wages, the growth of real wages was 0.54 percent per year.[8] This contradicts the arguments of data sets such as the “2016 Distressed Community Index” that focus specifically on the increasing gap between rich and poor in the United States.[9]

Beside the bias corrections and other measurements, Sacerdote argues that the quality, technology, and durability of current consumption goods is superior to that of previous decades, therefore expanding the relative capacity of consumption of those below the median income. For example he claims that “the number of cars per household has risen from 1 to 1.6 during 1970-2015,” while the median home square footage for this income segment has risen about 8 percent during this same period of time.[10]

His objective of focusing “on growth rates in consumption instead of changes in poverty rates” is achieved by using data and methodologies for analyzing data that shows that “the glass half full” but as it is evident from the working paper, quantitative data can be tailored to fit the researcher’s agenda. Numerous questions surface regarding consumption trends in the United States that lead to further conclusions that indicate that the 164 percent increase of the past fifty-plus years is the result of greater household debt and cheaper consumer goods prices that are tied to the impacts of globalization. Consumer households that fall below the median income continue to steadily consume more, there is not doubt about that, but their wages continue to depreciate while their debt continues to rise. Moreover, globalization has allowed companies to transfer their production overseas, leading to a loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector that potentially offered higher than minimum wage salaries to those households that ranked below the median income. The transfer of production has at the same time guaranteed cheaper products to these consumers that then are able to consume more with their lower wages and their greater access to loans that artificially maintain their consumption capacity while increasing their debt to income ratio.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for the year 2014 was $53,719.[11] This means that half of Americans earned less than that amount. This population, that represents the central focus of Sacerdote’s research, currently has an average household debt of $130,000 (assuming that those earning below the median income are forced to go into debt to maintain their standard of living).[12] The breakdown of this debt shows that mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and student loans make up most of the American debt.[13] This could indicate that the steady consumption increase demonstrated by Sacerdote could actually be artificially maintained by the financial system that keeps the American consumer afloat.

Sacerdote’s work could also benefit from qualitative research that would provide more in-depth analysis and at the same time counter-balance his claims on consumer choice and the reliability of products being consumed. Qualitative research could provide a different explanation as to why low-income consumers have opted to hold on to their vehicles for longer periods of time, how they are able to purchase expensive technology such as cell phones and access services such as internet and cable television, if indoor plumbing is a sign of a higher quality of life or simply a response to policy and the standardization of construction norms, and if the increase in housing square footage per household really represents a higher quality of life.  

Selectivity of data and research approach in this case clearly benefits the researcher’s argument but this could quickly be turned around with other sets of data and a different research approach. A focus on credit rates and debt rates over the same period of time shifts the argument around and leads to completely different conclusions, and so would a qualitative analysis of the quality of life of Americans. Although controversial, Sacerdote’s work forces the reader to think more critically about the changes that have taken place in American society in the past fifty-plus years and brings up the question of whether or not this consumption approach is more reflective of the nation’s economic dependence on consumer consumption as a percentage of the GDP.

References

[1] See for example Thomas Piketty’s argument on the increasing gap between rich and poor and the possible threat to capitalism and democratic stability in “Capital in the 21st Century.” Cambridge: Harvard University (2014).

[2] Bruce Sacerdote. “Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages.” National Bureau of Economic Research, working paper series, working paper 23292, March 2017. Accessed April 25, 2017. http://nber.org/papers/w23292, 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 1-7.

[5] See Dora L. Costa. “Estimating Real Income in the United States from 1888 to 1994: Correcting CPI Bias Using Engel Curves.” Journal of Political Economy 109, no. 6 (2001): 1288-1310, and Bruce W. Hamilton. “The True Cost of Living: 1974-1991.” Working paper in Economics, The John Hopkins University Department of Economics, January 1998.

[6] Sacerdote. “Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages,” 2.

[7] Ibid., 1.

[8] Ibid., 3.

[9] “2016 Distressed Community Index: A Analysis of Community Well-Being Across the United State.” Accessed April 25, 2017. http://eig.org/dci/report. See also for example Gillian B. White. “Inequality Between America’s Rich and Poor is at a 30-Year High.” Washington Post, December 18, 2014. Accessed May 1, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/12/inequality-between-americas-rich-and-americas-poor-at-30-year-high/383866/.

[10] Sacerdote. “Fifty Years of Growth in American Consumption, Income, and Wages,” 2.

[11] Matthew Frankel. “Here’s the Average American Household Income: How do you Compare?” USA Today November 24, 2016. Accessed May 2, 2017. https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2016/11/24/average-american-household-income/93002252/

[12] Matthew Frankel. “The Average American Household Owes 90,336 – How do you Compare?” The Motley Fool May 8, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://www.fool.com/retirement/general/2016/05/08/the-average-american-household-owes-90336-how-do-y.aspx

[13] Ibid.

No man can serve two masters

Rogue Trading at Lloyds Bank International, 1974: Operational Risk in Volatile Markets

By Catherine Schenk (Glasgow)

Abstract Rogue trading has been a persistent feature of international financial markets over the past thirty years, but there is remarkably little historical treatment of this phenomenon. To begin to fill this gap, evidence from company and official archives is used to expose the anatomy of a rogue trading scandal at Lloyds Bank International in 1974. The rush to internationalize, the conflict between rules and norms, and the failure of internal and external checks all contributed to the largest single loss of any British bank to that time. The analysis highlights the dangers of inconsistent norms and rules even when personal financial gain is not the main motive for fraud, and shows the important links between operational and market risk. This scandal had an important role in alerting the Bank of England and U.K. Treasury to gaps in prudential supervision at the end of the Bretton Woods pegged exchange-rate system.

Business History Review, Volume 91 (1 – April 2017): 105-128.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007680517000381

Review by Adrian E. Tschoegl (The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania)

Since the 1974 rogue trading scandal at Lloyds’s Lugano branch we have seen more spectacular sums lost in rogue trading scandals. What Dr Catherine Schenk brings to our understanding of these recurrent events is the insight that only drawing on archives, both at Lloyds and at the Bank of England, can bring. In particular, the archives illuminate the decision processes at both institutions as the crisis unfolded. I have little to add to her thorough exposition of the detail so below I will limit myself to imprecise generalities.

Marc Colombo, the rogue trader at Lloyds Lugano, was a peripheral individual in a peripheral product line, in a peripheral location. As Schenk finds, this peripherality has two consequences, the rogue trader’s quest for respect, and the problem of supervision. Lloyds Lugano is not an anomaly. An examination of several other cases (e.g. Allied Irish, Barings, Daiwa, and Sumitomo Trading), finds the same thing (Tschoegl 2004).

In firms, respect and power come from being a revenue center. Being a cost center is the worst position, but being a profit center with a mandate to do very little is not much better. The rogue traders that have garnered the most attention, in large part because of the scale of their losses were not malevolent. They wanted to be valued. They were able to get away with their trading for long enough to do serious damage because of a lack of supervision, a lack that existed because of the traders’ peripherality.

In several cases, Colombo’s amongst them, the trader was head of essentially a one-person operation that was independent of the rest of the local organization. That meant that the trader’s immediate local supervisor had little or no experience with trading. Heads of branches in a commercial bank come from commercial banking, especially commercial lending. Commercial lending is a slow feedback environment (it may take a long time for a bad decision to manifest itself), and so uses a system of multiple approvals. Trading is a fast feedback environment. The two environments draw different personality types and have quite different procedures, with the trading environment giving traders a great deal of autonomy within set parameters, an issue Schenk addresses and that we will discuss shortly.

Commonly, traders will report to a remote head of trading and to the local branch manager, with the primary line being to the head of trading, and the secondary line being to the local branch manager. This matrix management developed to address the problem of the need to manage and coordinate centrally but also respond locally, but matrix management has its limitations too. As Mathew points out in the New Testament, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (Matthew (6:24). Even short of this, the issue that can arise, as it did at Lloyds Luggano, is that the trader is remote from both managers, one because of distance (and often time zone), and the other because of unfamiliarity with the product line. A number of software developments have improved the situation since 1974, but as some recent scandals have shown, they are fallible. Furthermore, the issue still remains that at some point the heads of many product lines will report to someone who rose in a different product line, which brings up the spectre of “too complex to manage”.

The issue of precautionary or governance rules, and their non-enforcement, is a clear theme in Schenk’s paper. Like the problem of supervision, this too is an issue where one can only do better or worse, but not solve. All rules have their cost. The largest may be an opportunity cost. Governance rules exist to reduce variance, but that means the price of reducing bad outcomes is the lower occurrence of good outcomes. While it is true, as one of Schenk’s interviewees points out, that one does not hear of successful rogue traders being fired, that does not mean that firms do not respond negatively to success. I happened to be working for SBCI, an investment banking arm of Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC), at the time of SBC’s acquisition in 1992 of O’Connor Partners, a Chicago-based derivatives trading house. I had the opportunity to speak with O’Conner’s head of training when O’Connor stationed a team of traders at SBCI in Tokyo. He said that the firm examined too large wins as intently as they examined too large losses: in either case an unexpectedly large outcome meant that either the firm had mis-modelled the trade, or the trader had gone outside their limits. Furthermore, what they looked for in traders was the ability to walk away from a losing bet.

But even small costs can be a problem for a small operation. When I started to work for Security Pacific National Bank in 1976, my supervisor explained my employment benefits to me. I was authorized two weeks of paid leave per annum. When I asked if I could split up the time he replied that Federal Reserve regulations required that the two weeks be continuous so that someone would have to fill in for the absent employee. Even though most of the major rogue trading scandals arose and collapsed within a calendar year, the shadow of the future might well have discouraged the traders, or led them to reveal the problem earlier. Still, for a one-person operation, management might (and in some rogue trading scandals did), take the position that finding someone to fill in and bring them in on temporary duty was unnecessarily cumbersome and expensive. After all, the trader to be replaced was a dedicated, conscientious employee, witness his willingness to forego any vacation.

Lastly, there is the issue of Chesterton’s Paradox (Chesterton 1929). When a rule has been in place for some time, there may be no one who remembers why it is there. Reformers will point out that the rule or practice is inconvenient or costly, and that it has never in living memory had any visible effect. But as Chesterton puts it, “This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable.”

Finally, an issue one needs to keep in mind in deciding how much to expend on prevention is that speculative trading is a zero-sum activity. A well-diversified shareholder who owns both the employer of the rogue trader and the employers of their counterparties suffers little loss. The losses to Lloyds Lugano were gains to, inter alia, Crédit Lyonnais.

There is leakage. Some of the gainers are privately held hedge funds and the like. Traders at the counterparties receive bonuses not for skill but merely for taking the opposite side of the incompetent rogue trader’s orders. Lastly, shareholders of the rogue traders firm suffer deadweight losses of bankruptcy when the firm, such as Barings, goes bankrupt. Still, as Krawiec (2000) points out, for regulators the social benefit of preventing losses to rogue traders may not exceed the cost. To the degree that costs matter to managers, but not shareholders, managers should bear the costs via reduced salaries.

References

Chesterton, G. K. (1929) ‘’The Thing: Why I Am A Catholic’’, Ch. IV: “The Drift From Domesticity”.

Krawiec, K.D. (2000): “Accounting for Greed: Unraveling the Rogue Trader Mystery”, Oregon Law Review 79 (2):301-339.

Tschoegl, A.E. (2004) “The Key to Risk Management: Management”. In Michael Frenkel, Ulrich Hommel and Markus Rudolf, eds. Risk Management: Challenge and Opportunity (Springer-Verlag), 2nd Edition;

Blame it on the Jews? Economic Incentives and Persecutions during the Black Death

Negative Shocks and Mass Persecutions: Evidence from the Black Death

by Remi Jedwab (George Washington University), Noel D. Johnson (George Mason University) and Mark Koyama (George Mason University)

ABSTRACT- In this paper we study the Black Death persecutions (1347-1352) against Jews in order to shed light on the factors determining when a minority group will face persecution. We develop a theoretical framework which predicts that negative shocks increase the likelihood that minorities are scapegoated and persecuted. By contrast, as the shocks become more severe, persecution probability may actually decrease if there are economic complementarities between the majority and minority groups. We compile city-level data on Black Death mortality and Jewish persecution. At an aggregate level we find that scapegoating led to an increase in the baseline probability of a persecution. However, at the city-level, locations which experienced higher plague mortality rates were less likely to engage in persecutions. Furthermore, persecutions were more likely in cities with a history of antisemitism (consistent with scapegoating) and less likely in cities where Jews played an important economic role (consistent with inter-group complementarities).

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/77720.htm

Distributed by NEP-HIS on 2017‒04‒02

Review by Anna Missiaia  (Lund University)

Both history and the current world provide several examples of ethnic and religious minorities becoming the target of persecutions by the majority. Especially after the Holocaust, a growing number of scholars from different fields have inquired into the causes of these persecutions. In particular, the question is whether the chance of persecution against minorities is directly related to negative shocks such as harvest failures, economic depressions or plague. This paper by Jedwab, Johnson and Koyama addresses this question by looking at the persecutions against Jews during the Black Death (1347-1352) in Europe. The authors adopt a theoretical framework in which the negative shock represented by the Black Death has two possible effects on the probability of persecutions: on the one hand, the scapegoating effect leads to attributing the responsibility of the plague to the Jews, decreasing the preference for diversity in society and therefore leading to persecutions. On the other hand, if the minority represents some value to the majority (for instance because of money lending or because of high-skill jobs in which they cannot be easily replaced), the incentive to persecute decreases, with the complementarity effect prevailing. The two effects compete and the decision to persecute Jewish communities depends on the comparison between the utility that the majority derives from persecution and the economic benefit that the minority provides if left untouched.

The authors compile a dataset for 124 locations containing plague mortality rates from Christakos et al. (2005) and information on Jewish persecutions mainly from Encyclopedia Judaica. The aim is to test the effect of mortality caused by the Black Death on the probability of persecution of the local Jewish community. To assure the reader on the soundness of their identification strategy, the authors collect an impressive number of geographical and institutional controls to capture the effect of several other elements that could trigger persecutions. The paper of course cannot take into account all potential sources of bias but the authors thoughtfully address several potential problems using anecdotal and scientific evidence, proposing some convincing arguments to defend their choices. For instance, they spell out in detail the characteristics of the contagion proving that its pattern was largely determined by chance. The virulence of the plague was also unaffected by human behavior (by both Jews and non-Jews), ruling out the possibility of some causality running from the presence of Jews to the intensity of the plague.  The instruments for mortality are also quite convincing:  the two IV proposed are distance from Messina (a Sicilian port city where the first contagion was recorded) and month of the first infection. If it is true that the geographical origin and pattern of propagation of the Black Death were random, the instruments appear exogenous.

Figure 1: Pogrom of Strasbourg (1349) by Emile Schweitzer

Unsurprisingly, the authors find that the period 1347-1352 has indeed seen an unpreceded (and unrepeated until WWII) wave of persecutions against Jewish communities in Europe (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Total Number of Jewish Persecutions in 1100-1600.

What is far more surprising is that there is indeed a general increase in the baseline level (basically, on the intercept) but this effect does not grow stronger as mortality rates are higher. In the model, the constant is 0.831 which indicates a high risk of being persecuted on average but the effect of mortality of the persecution probability is negative and quite substantial (minus 0.34 standard deviations for one standard deviation increases in mortality). The shock appears to have a counter-veiling effect, as cities with the highest mortality were less likely to persecute Jews. In essence, in cities where Jews have a strong economic role, the complementarity effect prevailed. The take home message is therefore that persecutions have a general ideological origin but economic incentives can at least reduce violence against minorities.

This paper is nested into a very large literature on the origins and determinants of persecutions. On the Jewish case, a recent paper by Voigtländer and Voth (2012) has shown that the location of the persecutions during the Black Death in Germany is a strong predictor of the location of episodes of violence against Jews in the 1920s. This paper fills a gap by looking at the determinants of the medieval persecutions in first place. This work is also well connected to the body of research looking at the economic aspects of Jewish history, to which Botticini and Eckstein (2012) provided a seminal contribution. On a more general note, this paper represents a call for the inclusion of a microeconomic perspective when studying how persecutions of minorities arise.

References

Botticini, Maristella and Zvi Eckstein, The Chosen Few. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012.

Christakos, George, Richardo A. Olea, Marc L. Serre, Hwa-Lung Yu, and Lin-Lin Wang, Interdisciplinary Public Health Reasoning and Epidemic Modelling: The Case of Black Death, Berlin: Springer, 2005.

Voigtländer, Nico and Hans-Joachim Voth, “Persecution Perpetuated: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Semitic Violence in Nazi Germany,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2012, 127 (3), 1–54.