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Financial Fragility and Economic Performance

  • Bernanke, Ben
  • Gertler, Mark

Financial stability is an important goal of policy, but the relation of financial stability to economic performance and even the meaning of the term itself are poorly understood. This paper explores these issues in a theoretical model. The authors argue that financial instability, or fragility, occurs when entrepreneurs who want to undertake investment projects have low net worth; the heavy reliance on external finance that this implies causes the agency costs of investment to be high. High agency costs in turn lead to low and inefficient investment. Standard policies for fighting financial fragility can be interpreted as transfers that maintain or increase the net worth of potential borrowers. Copyright 1990, the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 105 (1990)
Issue (Month): 1 (February)
Pages: 87-114

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:105:y:1990:i:1:p:87-114
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  1. Mishkin, Frederic S., 1978. "The Household Balance Sheet and the Great Depression," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 38(04), pages 918-937, December.
  2. Bernanke, Ben S, 1983. "Nonmonetary Effects of the Financial Crisis in Propagation of the Great Depression," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 257-76, June.
  3. Stiglitz, Joseph E & Weiss, Andrew, 1981. "Credit Rationing in Markets with Imperfect Information," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 393-410, June.
  4. Boyd, John H. & Prescott, Edward C., 1986. "Financial intermediary-coalitions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 38(2), pages 211-232, April.
  5. Myers, Stewart C. & Majluf, Nicolás S., 1945-, 1984. "Corporate financing and investment decisions when firms have information that investors do not have," Working papers 1523-84., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management.
  6. Diamond, Douglas W, 1984. "Financial Intermediation and Delegated Monitoring," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 51(3), pages 393-414, July.
  7. Farmer, Roger E A, 1984. "A New Theory of Aggregate Supply," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(5), pages 920-30, December.
  8. Prescott, Edward C & Townsend, Robert M, 1984. "Pareto Optima and Competitive Equilibria with Adverse Selection and Moral Hazard," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(1), pages 21-45, January.
  9. Akerlof, George A, 1970. "The Market for 'Lemons': Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 84(3), pages 488-500, August.
  10. N. Gregory Mankiw, 1986. "The Allocation of Credit and Financial Collapse," NBER Working Papers 1786, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Sappington, David, 1983. "Limited liability contracts between principal and agent," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 1-21, February.
  12. Stewart C. Myers & Nicholas S. Majluf, 1984. "Corporate Financing and Investment Decisions When Firms Have InformationThat Investors Do Not Have," NBER Working Papers 1396, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Otto Eckstein & Allen Sinai, 1986. "The Mechanisms of the Business Cycle in the Postwar Era," NBER Chapters, in: The American Business Cycle: Continuity and Change, pages 39-122 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Smith, Bruce, 1983. "Limited Information, Credit Rationing, and Optimal Government Lending Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 305-18, June.
  15. Williamson, Stephen D, 1987. "Financial Intermediation, Business Failures, and Real Business Cycles," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(6), pages 1196-1216, December.
  16. Myers, Stewart C. & Majluf, Nicholas S., 1984. "Corporate financing and investment decisions when firms have information that investors do not have," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 187-221, June.
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