New technology might help rein in big banks — Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson

From ShanghaiDaily.com

After nearly a decade of crisis, bailout and reform in the United States and the European Union, the financial system — both in those countries and globally — is remarkably similar to the one we had in 2006. Many financial reforms have been attempted since 2010, but the overall effects have been limited. Some big banks have struggled, but others have risen to take their place. Both before the 2008 global financial crisis and today, just over a dozen big banks dominate the world’s financial landscape. And yet the ground is shifting beneath the financial sector, and big banks could soon become a thing of the past.

Few officials privately express satisfaction with the progress of financial reform. In public, most of them are more polite, but the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, Neel Kashkari, struck a chord recently when he called for a reevaluation of how much progress has been made on addressing the problem of financial institutions that are “too big to fail” (TBTF).

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Investors should worry about China’s debt-burdened cities — Deborah Lucas and Doug Criscitello

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Lucas

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Lucas

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

Doug Criscitello, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for Finance and Policy

From Fortune

High rates of debt growth by local governments are a cause for concern in any country. In China, where recent turmoil in the equity and foreign-exchange markets has put a spotlight on that country’s economy and growth prospects, increasing levels of borrowing by provincial and other lower levels of government has resulted in local indebtedness rising nearly four-fold since 2008, reaching about 40% of GDP.

Debt growth of that magnitude raises concerns about fiscal sustainability, debt affordability, transparency and accountability. Cautionary tales abound. From New York City in the ‘70s, emerging market countries in the ‘80s, Russia in the ‘90s, and Detroit, Greece and Puerto Rico more recently, there is a long list of governments that have experienced the painful economic repercussions of taking on debt they could not afford.

While the massive debt buildup in China presents challenges, the situation is not as dire as a full-blown debt crisis, a new policy brief from the MIT Center for Finance and Policy by Xun Wu, a visiting scholar, suggests.

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Which way to the front? — Leigh Hafrey

War-Stories-Hafrey[1]-1From Huffington Post

Here’s a challenge for people who think about organizations in 21st-century America: How do we demilitarize our notions of leadership?

In late January 2016, National Public Radio reported on Urban Warriors, a YMCA of Metro Chicago initiative. Run in cooperation with the Adler Institute of Psychology, the pilot program brings inner-city youth together with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The goal: to acknowledge the physical and psychological damage occasioned by participants’ prolonged exposure to violence and help them cope. The YMCA staffer behind the program, Eddie Bocanegra, paraphrases the kids’ logic for buying into it: they (the soldiers) have guns, we have guns; they have ranks, our gangs have ranks; they wear uniforms, we wear gang colors; they lived in a war zone, we do the same.

On the face of it, the YMCA program is an imaginative and praiseworthy response to a deeply felt need. Both military veterans struggling to reintegrate with civilian life and teenagers subject to or participating in gang violence have gravitated to the program, sharing their stories and taking comfort from the recognition that they aren’t alone in their difficulties. That said, we might ask ourselves how we have created a “homeland” where combat experience best models the lives of supposed domestic harmony that veterans were originally sworn to protect, and wish now to share.

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Cuba and entrepreneurship: An MIT MBA’s reflections — Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

MIT Sloan MBA Student Alanna Hughes

Soñar no cuesta nada. Dreaming doesn’t cost anything.

As I conclude a study trip to Cuba, I am reminded of this expression that a Dominican colleague frequently used. Whenever I would “think big” – first as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and later as a social enterprise director in the Dominican Republic and Haiti – my friend Hector Romero had the ability to both encourage my idealism and remind me of the challenging reality with this simple phrase.

As someone who came to business school directly from entrepreneurship work in other parts of the Caribbean, I want to dream for Cuba. I want to hope that it is on the brink of something groundbreaking for all those in the island nation with an entrepreneurial bent. However, after having studied it more in-depth, and after having spent time in Havana, my optimism is tainted by some of the skepticism I’d perceive in Romero’s voice years ago. While Cubans as a society should dream big, the prospect of larger-scale innovation driven entrepreneurship, still feels like…well, a dream.

If Cuba truly wishes to become more entrepreneurial, it will need more than its bright minds’ aspirations. It will need to financially invest and politically change – both of which undoubtedly generate significant costs.

Like many dreams, increasing entrepreneurship in Cuba is grounded in some reality. When conducting behavioral science research to prepare for our time in Havana, I stumbled upon several examples of Cuban “hacks” to provide solutions to problems resulting from scarcity, isolation, and censorship. One common example is the paquete semanal – a collection of illegal classifieds, music, and TV series, among others – that is distributed on Cuba’s black market as a substitute for broadband internet. Other examples include metal meal trays repurposed as antennas and chargers built from non-rechargeable hearing aid batteries.

Beyond grassroots creative capacity, Cuba also possesses a highly educated populace that includes thousands of trained STEM graduates well suited to contribute to high tech businesses. Only about 200 miles separate Havana’s inventive and technical minds from Miami’s growing start-up scene and its gateway into other American innovation hubs. From a talent perspective, Cuba appears to hold a lot of untapped potential.

But will this human capital really be so easy to engage? Although our flight from MIA to HAV only lasted 45 minutes, it was clear as soon as we stepped out of Havana’s small airport onto its antique car trafficked streets that we had landed a world away. In spite of the hype we had heard in the American press about Cuba’s ability to “open up,” a lot of the gates currently remain under lock and key.  So few Cubans have regular access to the internet; they have only been allowed to own personal computers and cell phones since 2008, and wifi is only available in a handful of CyberPoints and hotel lobbies – at $5 per hour through pre-purchased cards.

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MIT Sloan trek shows MBA students opportunities to work in policy — Valerio Riavez

MIT Sloan Student Valerio Riavez

MIT Sloan Student Valerio Riavez

If you’re interested in policy work at an institution like the World Bank, the Federal Reserve, or the IMF, a PhD is required. At least that’s what MBA students have long thought. However, a recent MIT Sloan career trek to Washington, D.C. revealed that this is no longer the case.

As these institutions don’t typically participate in on-campus recruiting, it can be challenging for business school students to learn about policy jobs. That’s why the MIT Sloan Finance and Policy Club organized a trek for 25 students to Washington, D.C. We wanted to learn more about job options for MBA and Master of Finance (MFin) students, make connections, and get a glimpse of what living in D.C. is like.

We began the trek at the World Bank Group. Most MBAs are familiar with the IFC, which is the private sector development arm of the WB and an active recruiter of business students. However, during this visit we learned that the World Bank Group is also increasingly hiring people without PhDs. The World Bank has an elite program called the Young Professionals Program (YPP) through which it hires and forms the next generation of WB leaders. We were particularly surprised to learn that the majority of YPP hires actually do not have a PhD.

In the afternoon, we headed over to the Federal Reserve where we visited the boardroom and participated in a Q&A session with a senior economist. We sat around the very table where Janet Yellen, Ben Bernanke, and Alan Greenspan made some of the most significant monetary decisions in the history of global economics. For a policy fan, I must admit it was pretty cool.

A takeaway at the Fed was that jobs are mostly reserved for U.S. citizens. Foreign students are generally ruled out unless they are transferred from another central bank through an exchange program. There is a fierce screening process for all jobs at the Fed because it is a central bank and its activities are at the core of national interests.

We also learned how after the financial crisis, the Fed began looking more to private-sector practitioners to work on unconventional monetary policy endeavors to get the economy back on track. When central banks had to design and implement their quantitative easing, they had to rethink how to intervene in financial markets. To do that, they brought in people with experience in the private sector and exposure to financial markets. For students interested in finance at a policy institution, that is an untapped recruiting resource.

In addition to that good news, we saw that this trend seems to extend to other central banks and financial policy institutions, which are increasingly interested in people with business acumen – meaning a PhD is not always required. The governors of central banks still have PhDs, but the world is changing and private sector experience and exposure to financial markets today are crucial for these institutions. As a result, departments involved in quantitative easing are increasingly comprised of MBAs.

We ended our trek with visits to many landmarks in Washington, D.C., including the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Kennedy Center. On our final night, we visited the Saudi ambassador’s home where we enjoyed a traditional Saudi reception and a great discussion about the economy in the Middle East with the ambassador and members of the Washington diplomatic community.

As most of us are still exploring opportunities for after graduation, meeting with MIT alumni in D.C. also helped us have a better grasp of what life is like in the city. After seeing all of the great policy opportunities available to MBA graduates and touring the city, it’s definitely a place to keep on the radar.

Valerio Riavez is a native of Italy and dual degree student at MIT Sloan and the Harvard Kennedy School. He holds a Master’s Degree in economics and previously worked in both the public and private sector in finance. He is co-president of the MIT Sloan Finance and Policy Club.