Can citizens trust government if falsehoods are part of the story? – Doug Criscitello

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 The Hill 

While trust in government around the world has been trending downward for decades, trust in the U.S. government now appears to be in freefall as a host of half-truths and downright lies become entrenched in our political system. Playing fast and loose with the facts has long been a hallmark of politicians, so why be concerned with the counterfactual and scientifically dubious logic flowing from Washington these days?

When the leader of the free world cannot be trusted as an authoritative source of information on critically important topics, the world, already a dangerous place where bad things can and do happen, becomes riskier. Consider what would happen if any of the following were to occur: pandemics, financial crises, natural disasters, nuclear accidents, cyberattacks and/or military conflicts. Economists study the likelihood and impacts of these highly consequential but low probability events, called tail risks. Although unlikely, it’s bad, really bad, when one of these extreme, end-of-the-bell-curve events occurs.

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Closing the lending gap will help government and business thrive – Doug Criscitello

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 The Hill

With taxpayers at risk for $20 trillion in loans and insured obligations, worth more than the five largest American bank companies combined, the United States government is essentially the largest financial institution in the world. Lending is a risky business as we learned during the last financial crisis. Government activities in this regard are no less dangerous, and perhaps more so, given public policy complexities that extend well beyond profit. Given a bleak fiscal outlook, policymakers may want to consider ways to reduce taxpayer exposure by fortifying financial institutions and financial technology companies with an enormous infusion of loan performance data that only it can provide.

Through a set of more than 100 programs largely initiated or expanded in response to the Great Depression, the Great Society programs of the 1960s, and the 2008 financial crisis, the government has provided over 100 million direct loans and guarantees for home ownership, higher education, business assistance, and a variety of other purposes. As the government has increasingly turned to credit programs to accomplish a diverse set of objectives, with its loan portfolio more than doubling since 2008, it is challenged to keep pace with an increasingly sophisticated financial marketplace, which could actually help reduce the federal lending role.

Government forays into this realm are typically driven by a desire to extend the lending frontier, thereby achieving societal gains, by either closing information gap about borrower creditworthiness or by providing an explicit subsidy to borrowers who likely would not be granted a loan even if a private lender had full information. The government can increase credit availability under either of those conditions because, unlike private lenders, it is able to offer loans without regard for profit. Read More »

It’s time to found a new republic – Daron Acemoglu & Simon Johnson

MIT Sloan Professor Simon Johnson

MIT Professor Daron Acemoglu

From Foreign Policy

Most Americans tend to believe that they’ve lived under the same form of government, more or less, since the country was founded in late 1700s. They’re mistaken.

It’s true that there have been important continuities. The American conception of what government should and should not do is deeply rooted in clear thinking at the start of the republic; the country has long preferred limited government and effective constraints on capricious executive action. But this persistence of core ideas (and the consistent use of the same buildings in Washington, D.C.) obscures the dramatic changes that have taken place within the governing institutions themselves.

In fact, formidable challenges at the end of the 19th century were met by fashioning a transformation so thorough it could effectively be deemed a “Second Republic.” This new republic came with significantly different economic and political rules — and, as a result, enabled the American system to survive and even thrive for another century. Today, faced with serious economic and political dysfunction, we are in need of another round of deep institutional renewal: a Third Republic.

The conditions that brought about the first transformation of American society are strikingly similar to those we see today. At the root of the problems confronting the United States by 1900 was a wave of innovation that sped up growth. The direct benefits of these new technologies accrued to a few, while many others became more uncertain about their economic future.

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Building trust in a government through a 21st century approach to financial management–Doug Criscitello

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 MIT Golub Center for Finance and Policy

As the keynote speaker at a recent conference of the International Consortium on Government Financial Management held in Washington DC, I had the opportunity to discuss with representatives from over 40 countries one of the primary challenges facing governments around the world – citizen engagement.

My remarks emphasized that recent populist movements should be a wake up call to everyone involved in government – including those in the budgeting and finance communities – on the need to turn citizen cynicism into engagement and buy-in.

The growing availability of technology and data should be enabling a highly informed citizenry (i.e., voters) armed with actionable information. Moving beyond tired factory-like mindsets where government financial staff spend their days grinding out reports, preparing audit remediation plans and manually executing budgets, a modern approach enables technology to drive iterative, customer-focused engagement and creates and marshals electronic resources.

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Bridging the knowledge gap on governments as financial institutions – Deborah Lucas

MIT Sloan Prof. Deborah Lucas

Ask most finance experts about the “world’s largest financial institutions,” and you’ll hear names like Citigroup, ICBC (China’s largest bank) and HSBC. However, governments top the list of large financial institutions, with investment and insurance operations that dwarf those of any private enterprise. For instance, last year the U.S. federal government made almost all student loans and backed over 97% of newly originated mortgages. Add to that Uncle Sam’s lending activities for agriculture, small business, energy and trade, plus its provision of insurance for private pensions and deposits, and you’ll discover it’s an $18-trillion financial institution. By comparison, JP Morgan Chase, the largest U.S. bank, had assets totaling about $2.4 trillion.

While government practices differ across countries, the basic story is much the same everywhere. As the world’s largest and most interconnected financial institutions — and through their activities as rule-makers and regulators — governments have an enormous influence on the allocation of capital and risk in society. And as financial actors they are confronted with the same critical issues as their private-sector peers: How should a government assess its cost of capital? How should its financial activities be accounted for? What are the systemic and macroeconomic effects? Are the institutions well-managed? Are its financial products well-designed?

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