söndag 30 juni 2013

MacKenzie om de implicita subsidierna till bankerna

Sociologen Donald MacKenzie från universitetet i Edinburgh har med böcker som An Engine Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets gjort sig känd som en av de främsta akademiska analytikerna av finansialiseringen. Han har en intressant halvny artikel i LRB utifrån de beräknaingar som Bank of England-ekonomen Andrew Haldane och efterföljare gjort av hur stora de implicita subsidierna från staten till bankerna är, i form av att bankerna vet att staten kommer rädda dem om det går åt skogen. Enligt Haldane och BoE:s beräkning från 2010 så var stödet år 2009 107 miljarder pund; Vänsterpartiet plockade i sin vårbudgetmotion 2012 upp Riksbankens beräkning att stödet i Sverige uppgick till 30 miljarder kronor per år 2002-2010 och förespråkade utifrån detta en extraskatt på storbankerna. MacKenzie diskuterar i LRB-artikeln helt enkelt hur politiskt rimligt det är med den här typen av subsidier, och vad för policies de bör kombineras med (för subsidierna är antagligen nödvändiga).
"Three years ago, the Bank of England set out to calculate a figure that does more than any other to shatter banking’s preferred image of itself. The figure made its first, understated appearance in March 2010, when Andrew Haldane, the Bank’s Executive Director for Financial Stability, included it in a talk in Hong Kong, then reappeared later that year in a chart buried at the back of the December issue of the Bank’s Financial Stability Report. The figure was the size of the subsidy that taxpayers give to British banking just by virtue of being available to bail out banks if things go badly wrong. It was calculated by working out the value to banks of the difference between the two ratings now typically given to them by credit rating agencies: one of the ratings takes likely government support into account; the other, lower rating does not.

The Bank put the figure for 2009 at £107 billion. It didn’t attract much attention, but it should have. It’s more than the government spent that year on social security or education, and almost as much as it spent on health. The Royal Bank of Scotland, however, did notice, and grasped the threat the figure posed to the image of banking. It commissioned its own analysis from the economics consultancy Oxera, which took a different approach, treating government support as what traders call a ‘put option’ (in effect, insurance) on the aggregate assets of the banking system, and using the theory of such options to work out the value of the put. Oxera estimated the annual subsidy at £5.9 billion.

That’s still a pretty handy sum: it’s more than the government spends on Jobseeker’s Allowance, or – if you prefer – you could use it to pay for the BBC and throw in the wage bill of the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, Oxera’s method involved questionable assumptions about interest rates and the exact nature of the put option, and further analysis by economists at the Bank of England suggests that the true value of the option (and therefore of the taxpayer subsidy) for 2010 lay between £30 billion and £120 billion.

There’s nothing specific to the UK about the subsidy, other than its size relative to the UK economy, which results from the fact that our banks are very large; two of the biggest, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland, remain wards of the state. The financial news service Bloomberg, drawing on work by the International Monetary Fund, estimates the US subsidy at $83 billion a year. Senators Sherrod Brown (Democrat, Ohio) and David Vitter (Republican, Louisiana) have asked Congress’s investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, to come up with a more authoritative figure. No one to my knowledge has done the equivalent calculation for the countries of continental Europe, but the subsidies there are likely also to be gigantic.

I don’t object in principle to taxpayer subsidies; I work in a sector, higher education, that still receives large amounts of public money. And in practice, the subsidy to banking is an insurance policy that only occasionally results (as it did in 2008) in direct cash injections. The subsidy doesn’t go directly into bankers’ pockets, and because it makes it cheaper for banks (with their current, debt-laden balance sheets) to borrow to fund their loans, it must reduce somewhat the interest rates on those loans. But it is reasonable to ask whether an activity such as banking, in which participants can become enormously wealthy, should receive a subsidy on this scale."
Donald MacKenzie, "The Magic Lever: How the Banks Do It", LRB 9 maj 2013

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