A major shift in American politics has taken place. All three of the remaining mainstream Democratic presidential candidates now agree that the existing state of the financial sector is not satisfactory and that more change is needed. President Barack Obama has long regarded the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation as bringing about sufficient change. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders, and former Governor Martin O’Malley want to do even more.
The three leading Democratic candidates disagree, however, on whether there should be legislation to re-erect a wall between the rather dull business of ordinary commercial banking and other kinds of finance (such as issuing and trading securities, commonly known as investment banking).
What is the economic cost of nuclear power? That turns out to be a very difficult question to answer.
The United States and other countries have plentiful experience building and operating nuclear power plants. Currently 438 nuclear reactors with a combined capacity of 379,000 megawatts generate more than 10% of the total electricity used worldwide.
The US has the largest fleet, with 99 reactors generating almost 20% of US electricity. France has the second-largest, with 58 reactors producing 77% of its electricity. The Chinese fleet of 27 reactors generates under 3% of its electricity.
Nevertheless, there is great uncertainty about the cost of building new plants. The existing fleet in the US and most developed countries is very old, dating back to a period of intense growth in the 1960s and 1970s. In the US, the most recent construction permit for an operating reactor was issued in 1978, although completion work on a couple of stalled projects and “uprates” – capital refurbishment that increases capacity – have occurred at a number of units.
New construction fell off in other developed countries, too. The few additions made since 1990 were mostly in Japan, Korea, Eastern Europe, Russia and China.
Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement under negotiation between the United States and 11 other countries, make this case: Trade between countries is always good, and more trade with more countries is even better. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw goes further in a recent New York Times piece, arguing that anyone opposed to trade deals does not understand elementary economics.
The arguments made by these advocates do not match the reality of the modern world and are not helpful for thinking about what is at stake in the TPP. It’s not a question of understanding economics. It’s a question of knowing precisely what we’re agreeing to when we sign the TPP.
In the simple models of introductory textbooks, countries improve their respective economic outcomes by specializing in their “comparative advantage” — the goods they produce more efficiently than their trade partners — thereby increasing the supply of goods and lowering prices. No government subsidy is involved, nobody cheats, everyone is well-informed about the nature of the deal, and pretty much all parties come out ahead. If anyone loses their job, in those models either they get another good job or they can be fairly compensated by the people who gain extra income.
Financial shadows are dangerous. Even more dangerous are interactions between poorly understood shadows and essential financial intermediation activities. And most dangerous is when officials and private sector executives encourage a class of transactions that supposedly provide modest risk mitigation, while really building a disguised form of systemic risk on a grand scale.
It was not mounting losses at Countrywide, the failure of Lehman Brothers or the imminent collapse of AIG that spelt disaster in September 2008. It was the connections between those lightly regulated businesses and Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Société Générale, Barclays, UBS and Deutsche Bank.
Where is the next generation of systemic risk hiding in plain sight? Look carefully at central clearing counterparties, or clearing houses, which are expanding due to the post-crisis requirement that standardised swaps – derivative transactions, including credit default swaps, that have standard terms along important dimensions – be cleared centrally.
MIT Sloan alumnus, Jean-Jacques Degroof, SF ’93, PhD ’02, sits down with Dave Vellante and Stu Miniman from theCube for the live post-show to the MIT Conference on the Digital Economy: The Second Machine Age to get his take on the day’s talks.
On April 10, 2015, the MIT Digital Economy Conference: The Second Machine Age, led by Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, and Andrew McAfee, co-director of the Initiative on the Digital Economy, featured a series of discussions that highlight MIT’s role in both understanding and shaping our increasingly digital world.