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An autopsy of the US financial system: accident, suicide, or negligent homicide

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  • Ross Levine

Abstract

Purpose - The purpose of this postmortem is to assess whether the design, implementation, and maintenance of financial policies during the period from 1996 through 2006 were primary causes of the financial system's demise. Design/methodology/approach - To draw conclusions about the policy determinants of the crisis, the paper studies five important policies: Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) policies toward credit rating agencies, Federal Reserve policies concerning bank capital and credit default swaps, SEC and Federal Reserve policies about over-the-counter derivatives, SEC policies toward the consolidated supervision of major investment banks, and government policies toward two housing-finance entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Findings - The evidence is inconsistent with the view that the collapse of the financial system was caused only by the popping of the housing bubble (“accident”) and the herding behavior of financiers rushing to create and market increasingly complex and questionable financial products (“suicide”). Rather, the evidence indicates that senior policymakers repeatedly designed, implemented, and maintained policies that destabilized the global financial system in the decade before the crisis. Moreover, although the major regulatory agencies were aware of the growing fragility of the financial system due to their policies, they chose not to modify those policies, suggesting that “negligent homicide” contributed to the financial system's collapse. Originality/value - Although influential policymakers presume that international capital flows, euphoric traders, and insufficient regulatory power caused the crisis, this paper shows that these factors played only a partial role. Thus, current reforms represent only a partial and thus incomplete step in establishing a stable and well-functioning financial system. Since systemic institutional failures helped cause the crisis, systemic institutional reforms must be a part of a comprehensively effective response.

Suggested Citation

  • Ross Levine, 2010. "An autopsy of the US financial system: accident, suicide, or negligent homicide," Journal of Financial Economic Policy, Emerald Group Publishing, vol. 2(3), pages 196-213, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:jfeppp:v:2:y:2010:i:3:p:196-213
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ross Levine, 1997. "Financial Development and Economic Growth: Views and Agenda," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, pages 688-726.
    2. Barth,James R. & Caprio,Gerard & Levine,Ross, 2008. "Rethinking Bank Regulation," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521709309, December.
    3. Pinches, George E & Singleton, J Clay, 1978. "The Adjustment of Stock Prices to Bond Rating Changes," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 33(1), pages 29-44, March.
    4. Alan Greenspan, 2010. "The Crisis," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, pages 201-261.
    5. Asli Demirgüç-Kunt & Ross Levine, 2009. "Finance and Inequality: Theory and Evidence," Annual Review of Financial Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 1(1), pages 287-318, November.
    6. Ross Levine, 1997. "Financial Development and Economic Growth: Views and Agenda," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, pages 688-726.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Cihak, Martin & Demirgüç-Kunt, Asli & Martinez Peria, Maria Soledad & Mohseni-Cheraghlou, Amin, 2013. "Bank regulation and supervision in the context of the global crisis," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, pages 733-746.
    2. Gerrit B. Koester & Christoph Priesmeier, 2013. "Does Wagner´s Law Ruin the Sustainability of German Public Finances?," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, pages 256-288.
    3. Alexander, Gordon J. & Baptista, Alexandre M. & Yan, Shu, 2013. "A comparison of the original and revised Basel market risk frameworks for regulating bank capital," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 249-268.
    4. Mettenheim Kurt, 2013. "Back to Basics in Banking Theory and Varieties of Finance Capitalism," Accounting, Economics, and Law: A Convivium, De Gruyter, pages 357-405.
    5. Stefano Colonnello & Matthias Efing & Francesca Zucchi, 2016. "Empty Creditors and Strong Shareholders: The Real Effects of Credit Risk Trading," Swiss Finance Institute Research Paper Series 16-17, Swiss Finance Institute, revised Jun 2016.
    6. Alexander, Gordon J. & Baptista, Alexandre M. & Yan, Shu, 2012. "When more is less: Using multiple constraints to reduce tail risk," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 36(10), pages 2693-2716.
    7. Thorsten Beck, 2013. "Finance, growth and fragility: the role of government," International Journal of Banking, Accounting and Finance, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, pages 49-77.
    8. Cihak, Martin & Demirguc-Kunt, Asli & Peria, Maria Soledad Martinez & Mohseni-Cheraghlou, Amin, 2012. "Bank regulation and supervision around the world : a crisis update," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6286, The World Bank.
    9. Beck, T.H.L., 2011. "The Role of Finance in Economic Development : Benefits, Risks, and Politics," Discussion Paper 2011-141, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
    10. Swamy, Vighneswara, 2014. "Bank regulation, supervision and efficiency during the global financial crisis," MPRA Paper 58295, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    11. Alexander, Gordon J. & Baptista, Alexandre M. & Yan, Shu, 2014. "Bank regulation and international financial stability: A case against the 2006 Basel framework for controlling tail risk in trading books," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 107-130.
    12. Manlagnit, Maria Chelo V., 2015. "Basel regulations and banks’ efficiency: The case of the Philippines," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, pages 72-85.
    13. Poczter, Sharon, 2016. "The long-term effects of bank recapitalization: Evidence from Indonesia," Journal of Financial Intermediation, Elsevier, pages 131-153.
    14. Mario Bergara & Gerardo Licandro & Jorge Ponce, 2012. "Financial stability nets. Complementing and reinforcing micro and macro perspectives," Documentos de trabajo 2012002, Banco Central del Uruguay.

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