Special Excerpt from “The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It”

The Bankers' New ClothesYesterday marked the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy in 2008, sending our economy into a tailspin. To note this occasion, we posted a list of some of our Top Banking Books to help people try to figure out what in the world is going on with our economy.
Along that same thread, today we have a special excerpt of The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It by Anat Admati & Martin Hellwig posted below. In this excerpt (pages 11-12 to be exact), Admati and Hellwig address the Lehman Brothers fall and the ripple affect it had on America and even other countries abroad.
As a whole, the book addresses how risks in banking can impose significant costs on the economy. Many think that a safer banking system would require sacrificing lending and economic growth, but Admati and Hellwig  argue that we can have a safer and healthier banking system without sacrificing any of the benefits of the system, and at essentially no cost to society.
Check out the excerpt below!

In the run-up to the financial crisis, the debts of many large banks financed 97 percent or more of their assets. Lehman Brothers in the United States, Hypo Real Estate in Germany, Dexia in Belgium and France, and UBS in Switzerland had many hundreds of billions of dollars, euros, or Swiss francs in debt. Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy in September 2008. The other three avoided bankruptcy only because they were bailed out by their governments.


The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy caused severe disruption and damage to the global financial system. Stock prices imploded, investors withdrew from money market funds, money market funds refused to renew their loans to banks, and banks stopped lending to each other. Banks furiously tried to sell assets, which further depressed prices. Within two weeks, many banks faced the prospect of default.


To prevent a complete meltdown of the system, governments and central banks all over the world provided financial institutions with funding and with guarantees for the institutions’ debts. These interventions stopped the decline, but the downturn in economic activity was still the sharpest since the Great Depression. Anton Valukas, the lawyer appointed by the bankruptcy court to investigate Lehman Brothers, put it succinctly: “Everybody got hurt. The entire economy has suffered from the fall of Lehman Brothers . . . the whole world.”


In the fall of 2008, many financial institutions besides Lehman Brothers were also vulnerable. Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) that “out of maybe . . . 13 of the most important financial institutions in the United States, 12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two.” Some or all of the major banks in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom failed or were at significant risk of failing had their governments not bailed them out.


Accounts of the crisis often focus on the various breakdowns of bank funding between August 2007 and October 2008. Much bank funding consisted of very short-term debt. Banks were therefore vulnerable to the risk that this debt would not be renewed. The deeper reason for the breakdowns, however, was that banks were highly indebted. When banks suffered losses, investors, including other financial institutions, lost confidence and cut off funding, fearing that the banks might become unable to repay their debts.


The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy itself heightened investors’ concerns by showing that even a large financial institution might not be bailed out, and therefore that default of such an institution was a real possibility.


The problem posed by some banks being regarded as too big to fail is greater today than it was in 2008. Since then, the largest U.S. banks have become much larger. On March 31, 2012, the debt of JPMorgan Chase was valued at $2.13 trillion and that of Bank of America at $1.95 trillion, more than three times the debt of Lehman Brothers. The debts of the five largest banks in the United States totaled around $8 trillion. These figures would have been even larger under the accounting rules used in Europe.


In Europe, the largest banks are of similar size. Because European economies are smaller than that of the United States, the problem is even more serious there. Relative to the overall economy, banks are significantly larger in Europe than in the United States, especially in some of the smaller countries. In Ireland and Iceland before the crisis, the banking systems had become so large that, when the banks failed, these countries’ economies collapsed.


The traumatic Lehman experience has scared most governments into believing that large global banks must not be allowed to fail. Should any of these large banks get into serious difficulties, however, we may discover that they are not only too big to fail but also too big to save. There will be no good options.


The consequences of letting a large bank fail are probably more severe today than in the case of Lehman Brothers in 2008, but saving them might cripple their countries. The experiences of Ireland and Spain provide a taste of what can happen if large banking systems have to be saved by their governments. In both countries, the governments were unable to deal with their banking problems on their own, so they had to ask for support from the International Monetary Fund and from the European Union.

Two for Tuesday – Political Bubbles and Champagne Bubbles

bubblesFrom financial and political bubbles to bubbles that tickle your senses, we have you covered with two books just published. We invite you to read their Introductions online.

Political Bubbles: Financial Crises and the Failure of American Democracy
by Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole & Howard Rosenthal

Behind every financial crisis lurks a “political bubble”–policy biases that foster market behaviors leading to financial instability. Rather than tilting against risky behavior, political bubbles–arising from a potent combination of beliefs, institutions, and interests–aid, abet, and amplify risk. Demonstrating how political bubbles helped create the real estate-generated financial bubble and the 2008 financial crisis, this book argues that similar government oversights in the aftermath of the crisis undermined Washington’s response to the “popped” financial bubble, and shows how such patterns have occurred repeatedly throughout US history. The first full accounting of how politics produces financial ruptures, Political Bubbles offers timely lessons that all sectors would do well to heed.

Nolan McCarty is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs and chair of the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Keith T. Poole is the Philip H. Alston Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Georgia. Howard Rosenthal is professor of politics at New York University and the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences, Emeritus, at Princeton University.
Introduction online: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9934.pdf

Uncorked: The Science of Champagne (Revised Edition)
by Gérard Liger-Belair
With a new foreword by Hervé This

Bubbly may tickle the nose, but Uncorked tackles what the nose and the naked eye cannot–the spectacular science that gives champagne its charm and champagne drinkers immeasurable pleasure. Providing an unprecedented close-up view of the beauty in the bubbles, Gérard Liger-Belair presents images that look surprisingly like lovely flowers, geometric patterns, even galaxies as the bubbles rise through the glass and burst forth on the surface. He illustrates how bubbles form not on the glass itself but are “born” out of debris stuck on the glass wall, how they rise, and how they pop. Offering a colorful history of champagne, Liger-Belair tells us how it is made and he asks if global warming could spell champagne’s demise. In a brand new foreword, renowned chemist Hervé This places the evolution of champagne within the context of molecular gastronomy and the science of cuisine, and in an original afterword, Liger-Belair updates the reader on new developments in the world of bubble science and delves even more deeply into the processes that give champagne its unique and beautiful character.

Gérard Liger-Belair is a physics professor at the University of Reims, located in the Champagne region of France.
Introduction online: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9939.pdf

New Economics and Finance Catalog!

We invite you to browse and download our new economics and finance catalog!
http://press.princeton.edu/catalogs/econ13.pdf

Of particular interest are some of our forthcoming titles including Benn Steil’s remarkable The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order, Ben S. Bernanke’s insightful The Federal Reserve and the Financial Crisis, and Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig’s engaging and accessible The Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It. Also note Justin Yifu Lin’s The Quest for Prosperity: How Developing Economies Can Take Off. Interwoven with insights, observations, and stories from Lin’s travels as chief economist of the World Bank and his reflections on China’s rise, this book provides a road map and hope for those countries engaged in their own quest for prosperity.

Our catalog also exhibits critical textbooks including David M. Kreps’ rigorous Microeconomic Foundations I: Choice and Competitive Markets, Steven Tadelis’ comprehensive Game Theory: An Introduction, Ariel Rubinstein’s essential second edition Lecture Notes in Microeconomic Theory: The Economic Agent, and Michael Wickens’ superior second edition Macroeconomic Theory: A Dynamic General Equilibrium Approach.

If you’re interested in hearing more about our economics and finance titles, sign up with ease here: http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/ Your email address will remain confidential!

We’ll see everyone at the meeting of the Allied Social Science Associations January 4-6 in San Diego, CA. Come visit us at booth 308! Be sure to stop by Saturday, January 5 at 1:00 p.m. for a book signing with Justin Yifu Lin, author of The Quest for Prosperity: How Developing Economies Can Take Off.