From off-shoring good jobs to the great and growing income divide, finance-driven decision-making has long been at the core of many of our economic problems. It’s not that financial analysts and operatives are necessarily evil or uncaring – rather, they believe they have a fiduciary responsibility to generate maximum returns for their funds, even when the results have worker and society-unfriendly consequences.
Changing this mindset has proven a tough nut to crack even for union pension fund managers, who are aware of the social consequences of investment decisions. But there are glimmers of hope and interest. On June 7, for example, some of the nation’s largest institutional investors and the biggest single pension fund investor – the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALpers) — will hold a conference to explore ways to transform socially and environmentally sustainable investment criteria from a perceived liability to an asset. CALpers has a commitment to responsible investing – for example, it calls for neutrality in union organizing – but it has never figured out how to make such policies systemic. Read More »
For years Argentina has lied to the world about its inflation rate. INDEC, the official statistics institute, claims the country’s inflation rate stands at around 10%. But estimates by economists—myself included—show that figure is two to three times less than the real rate. According to MIT’s Billion Prices Project, which runs an index that aggregates online price information from the largest supermarkets all over the world and provides real-time inflation estimates, Argentina’s inflation rate is currently about 25%.
This vast discrepancy between reality and what the government claims has been observed since 2007. At that time the government began putting pressure on INDEC, traditionally an independent body, to change its statistical methodologies. It eventually fired workers responsible for creating the price index, and replaced them with employees who had close ties to the government. Since then the official inflation rate has been surprisingly stable—hovering around10%. Read More »
Global-stock mutual funds have become extremely popular investments. But these funds — which invest in companies located anywhere in the world — are not well-diversified and lose investors more than 2% a year on average in additional returns.
Even before the shocking events of the past few days, the international policy community had been contemplating a successor to Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the International Monetary Fund.
Strauss-Kahn, the IMF managing director, was expected to begin campaigning soon for the presidency of France. Now, whatever happens in the New York legal system as he defends himself against attempted rape allegations, it seems likely that the IMF will be searching for a new head sooner rather than later.
The idea that the job has become an attractive sinecure with nice fringe benefits should have been laid to rest by German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s preemptive strike earlier this week, when she said there are currently “good reasons” for the European Union to have a candidate. That produced similar expressions from other leading European politicians, although not all of them are willing to say that Strauss-Kahn is finished. Yesterday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry pronounced that the selection process must emphasize “fairness, transparency and merit.” Translation: China is pushing back against the idea that Europe necessarily gets to name Strauss- Kahn’s heir.
Professor of Applied Economics Roberto Rigobon, co-creator of the Billion Prices Project at MIT, asserts that countries with higher inflation are recovering more slowly from the global financial crisis. During a talk that was part of MIT Sloan’s Alumni Weekend, he predicts there will be another financial crisis and that governments will again over-react in an attempt to address it: “Whenever we have a financial crisis, regulation always overshoots.”
Rigobon says that neither rising commodity prices nor monetary expansion explains rising inflation rates, and points out that the traditional measures that governments uses to track the prices of goods are inefficient or suspect. He and MIT Sloan colleague Alberto Cavallo launched the Billion Prices Project, which now tracks online prices of commodities in 70 countries, providing real-time information on major inflation trends. As a result, even after the earthquake hit Japan earlier this year, the Billion Prices Project was still able to monitor prices in that country and track Japan’s inflation rate.