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Finance: Function Matters, Not Size

  • John H. Cochrane

It's fun to pass judgment on waste, size, usefulness, complexity, and excessive compensation. But as economists, we have an analytical structure for thinking about these questions. "I don’t understand it" doesn't mean "it's bad," or "regulation will improve it." That attitude pervades policy analysis in general and financial regulation in particular, and economists do the world a disservice if we echo it. I will not offer a competing black box [to explain the size of the finance industry]. I don’t claim to estimate the socially optimal "size of finance" at, say, 8.267 percent of GDP. It's just the wrong question. Hayek and the failure of planning should teach us a little modesty: Pronouncing on socially optimal industry size is a waste of time. Is the finance industry functioning well? Are there identifiable market or government distortions? Will proposed regulations help or make matters worse? These are useful questions.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.27.2.29
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 27 (2013)
Issue (Month): 2 (Spring)
Pages: 29-50

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:27:y:2013:i:2:p:29-50
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.27.2.29
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  1. William N. Goetzmann & Sharon Oster, 2013. "Competition Among University Endowments," NBER Chapters, in: How the Financial Crisis and Great Recession Affected Higher Education, pages 99-126 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Judith A. Chevalier & Glenn D. Ellison, 1995. "Risk Taking by Mutual Funds as a Response to Incentives," NBER Working Papers 5234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. John H. Cochrane, 2011. "Discount Rates," NBER Working Papers 16972, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Jonathan B. Berk & Richard C. Green, 2004. "Mutual Fund Flows and Performance in Rational Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1269-1295, December.
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  6. Merton, Robert C., 1971. "Optimum consumption and portfolio rules in a continuous-time model," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 3(4), pages 373-413, December.
  7. Jonathan B. Berk & Jules H. van Binsbergen, 2012. "Measuring Managerial Skill in the Mutual Fund Industry," NBER Working Papers 18184, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Eugene F. Fama & Kenneth R. French, 2010. "Luck versus Skill in the Cross-Section of Mutual Fund Returns," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 65(5), pages 1915-1947, October.
  9. Snehal Banerjee & Ilan Kremer, 2010. "Disagreement and Learning: Dynamic Patterns of Trade," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 65(4), pages 1269-1302, 08.
  10. Cochrane, John H, 1991. " Production-Based Asset Pricing and the Link between Stock Returns and Economic Fluctuations," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 46(1), pages 209-37, March.
  11. Carhart, Mark M, 1997. " On Persistence in Mutual Fund Performance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 52(1), pages 57-82, March.
  12. Fama, Eugene F & French, Kenneth R, 1996. " Multifactor Explanations of Asset Pricing Anomalies," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 51(1), pages 55-84, March.
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  15. Brad M. Barber & Yi-Tsung Lee & Yu-Jane Liu & Terrance Odean, 2009. "Just How Much Do Individual Investors Lose by Trading?," Review of Financial Studies, Society for Financial Studies, vol. 22(2), pages 609-632, February.
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