Why We Need to Reform Derivatives Trading
Robert Engle is a Nobel Prize-winning economist. After completing his Ph.D., Engle was a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1969 to 1977. He joined the faculty of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in 1975, where he retired from in 2003. He now is a Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at UCSD. He currently teaches at New York University, Stern School of Business where he is the Michael Armellino professor in Management of Financial Services. Engle is also the co-founder of the Society for Financial Econometrics (SoFiE). He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2003.
Question: How will financial regulatory reform help financial markets?
Robert Engle: Well there’s several features. I mean, it’s a pretty complicated set of topics that have been legislated. I like to focus on systemic risk, I think that there’s going to be a systemic risk regulator, which will probably be the Fed, and will chose in committee, select a subset of all the financial institutions that they can consider to be systemically risky and subject them, first of all to more scrutiny, but second of all, to more careful behavior. In other words, restrict their capital requirements so they can’t take on quite a much risk, or maybe put on a systemic risk tax, which is kind of gives them the incentive to become less systemically risky. So, that’s I think, an important part of the legislation. I really like the emphasis on trying to reduce the inner connections of firms through the over-the-counter derivatives market. The fact that this vast array of derivatives are traded over-the-counter means that they’re counter party risks between all sorts of pairs of individuals that are not adequately margined or controlled so that any one company goes bankrupt, it affects a wide range of other companies.
So these also contribute to systemic risk, and what the legislation is proposing is that as many of these over-the-counter derivatives as possible be moved to some kind of centralized clearing so that there is no more counter party risk and improved transparency in this markets, and I think that actually is going to be a very substantial reduction in systemic risk for the system as a whole.
There’s resolution authority saying these companies that are too big to fail just need new kinds of bankruptcy-type provisions. And then we can actually unwind them quickly and without doing so much damage to the entire economy. A lot of ambitious code has been written into the law for those and we will have to see if it actually works, if we have another example of a big financial institution going bankrupt.
I think global coordination is tremendously important. I hope we can see this happening through the G20 and through coordination of regulatory regimes around the world. I guess those are the main features of this bill that are important.
Question: What advice would you give to Barney Frank and other legislators?
Robert Engle: Well, I would say, first of all, congratulations. Because Barney Frank could have been wiped out by the Freddie and Fannie problems, but really, he was instrumental on, but in fact, he rose to a new level, I think, in recognizing what needed to be done to fix the financial system. And I think his bill was really very good. It has a few things I don’t like in it. It has a few exemptions for companies that don’t want to trade their derivatives on exchanges, but I think basically, it was very forward thinking of him to get it out so early to make a statement and pretty much the Senate came along with what he did.
Question: What else would you like to see from Congress?
Robert Engle: I’d like to see a little more action on the energy side of things. I’ve been pushing for some kind of a carbon tax for years, and it seems to me we’ve had lots of opportunities to do it. Today, we’re terribly worried about the size of the budget deficit. We’re talking about should we increase taxes? Why not put a tax on carbon emissions. It would raise a lot of money, it would reduce the environmental damages in the future, it would solve so many problems, and it would be a much more constructive thing to do than to think about raising the income tax.
Recorded May 25, 2010
Interviewed by Andrew Dermont
Cutting down on over-the-counter derivatives trading among banks will reduce the likelihood that if one bank goes under so will the rest.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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