Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Ranking of Economists

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Five Observations on SVB

1. The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank seems closely related to the fact that we recently experienced the largest drawdown in bonds in history. That is, the bank made an imprudent bet on interest rates and was very, very unlucky. 

2. Contrary to the claims of some talking heads, the relaxation of Dodd-Frank in 2018 appears not to be a big part of the story. The "severely adverse scenario" in the regulators' stress test did not include a major bond drawdown.  Instead, it described a recession accompanied by falling interest rates. That is, the regulators would not likely have caught the imprudent bet the bank was making.

3. I am not particularly concerned about the moral hazard associated with insuring all bank deposits (though the expansion of deposit insurance should be done explicitly, rather than through the implicit and ad hoc process now occurring). It is not realistic to expect bank depositors to monitor the health of their banks. A sophisticated depositor with a large balance would instead spread his holdings in $250,000 chunks among many banks. Those left with large holdings in a single bank are, by revealed preference, unsophisticated.

4. People say we need better regulation. Of course, but that is easier said than done. Don't expect supervision to get much better, though we should try.

5. The simplest way to avoid these problems is to push banks toward higher levels of capital. Maybe that can be accomplished by making deposit insurance fees depend more strongly on the bank's capital/asset ratio. Or something along those lines.

Friday, March 10, 2023

The Budgetary Trilemma

A wise economist of the center left recently suggested to me that the Biden administration faces a trilemma: They would like to (1) increase spending on programs they consider important, (2) not raise taxes on those making less than $400,000 a year, and (3) put fiscal policy on a sustainable path. But the stark reality is that they can have only 2 out of the 3.

The President's just released budget chooses to forgo fiscal sustainability. As the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget notes, even under the unlikely scenario that the President gets everything he wants through Congress and his economic projection turns out to be correct, "debt would hit a new record by 2027, rising from 98 percent of GDP at the end of 2023 to 106 percent by 2027 and 110 percent by 2033."