Is global financial reform needed or possible as a safety net for the less fortunate?
Nowadays there is ample evidence that financial systems, whether in Asia in the 1990s or a decade later in the United States and Europe, are vulnerable to breakdowns. The cost in interrupted growth and unemployment has been intolerably large.
But, in the absence of international consensus on some key points, reform will be greatly weakened, if not aborted. The freedom of money, financial markets and people to move – and thus to escape regulation and taxation – might be an acceptable, even constructive, brake on excessive official intervention, but not if a deregulatory race to the bottom prevents adoption of needed ethical and prudential standards.
Perhaps most important is a coherent, consistent approach to dealing with the imminent failure of “systemically important” institutions. Taxpayers and governments alike are tired of bailing out creditors for fear of the destructive contagious effects of failure – even as bailouts encourage excessive risk-taking.
By law in the US, new approaches superseding established bankruptcy procedures dictate the demise rather than the rescue of failing firms, whether by sale, merger, or liquidation. But such efforts’ success will depend on complementary approaches elsewhere, most importantly in the United Kingdom and other key financial centres.
Strict uniformity of regulatory practices may not be necessary. For example, the UK and the US may be adopting approaches that differ with respect to protecting commercial banks from more speculative, proprietary trading, but the policy concerns are broadly similar – and may not be so pressing elsewhere, where banking traditions are different and trading is more restrained. But other jurisdictions should not act to undercut the restrictions imposed by home authorities.
Closely related to these reforms is reform of the international monetary system. Indeed, one might legitimately question whether we have a “system” at all, at least compared to the Bretton Woods arrangements and, before that, the seeming simplicity of the gold standard. No one today has been able to exert authority systematically and consistently, and there is no officially sanctified and controlled international currency.
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