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Posts Tagged ‘bonuses’

Is a competitive market the wrong model for analysing capitalism?

In the following article, Joseph Stiglitz argues that power rather than competition is a better starting point for analysing the working of capitalism. People’s rewards depend less on their marginal product than on their power over labour or capital (or lack of it).

As inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works.

Thus the huge bonuses, often of millions of pounds per year, paid to many CEOs and other senior executives, are more a reflection of their power to set their bonuses, rather than of their contribution to their firms’ profitability. And these excessive rewards are not competed away.

Stiglitz examines how changes in technology and economic structure have led to the increase in power. Firms are more able to erect barriers to entry; network economies give advantages to incumbents; many firms, such as banks, are able to lobby governments to protect their market position; and many governments allow powerful vested interests to remain unchecked in the mistaken belief that market forces will provide the brakes on the accumulation and abuse of power. Monopoly profits persist and there is too little competition to erode them. Inequality deepens.

According to Stiglitz, the rationale for laissez-faire disappears if markets are based on entrenched power and exploitation.

Article
Monopoly’s New Era Chazen Global Insights, Columbia Business School, Joseph Stiglitz (13/5/16)

Questions

  1. What are the barriers to entry that allow rewards for senior executives to grow more rapidly than median wages?
  2. What part have changes in technology played in the increase in inequality?
  3. How are the rewards to senior executives determined?
  4. Provide a critique of Stiglitz’ analysis from the perspective of a proponent of laissez-faire.
  5. If Stiglitz analysis is correct, what policy implications follow from it?
  6. How might markets which are currently dominated by big business be made more competitive?
  7. T0 what extent have the developments outlined by Stiglitz been helped or hindered by globalisation?
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A cap fit for purpose?

As part of the Basel III round of banking regulations, representatives of the EU Parliament and member governments have agreed with the European Commission that bankers’ bonuses should be capped. The proposal is to cap them at 100% of annual salary, or 200% with the agreement of shareholders. The full Parliament will vote in May and then it will go to officials from the 27 Member States. Under a system of qualified majority voting, it is expected to be accepted, despite UK resistance.

The main arguments in favour of a cap are that it will reduce the focus of bankers on short-term gains and reduce the incentive to take excessive risks. It will also appease the anger of electorates throughout the EU over bankers getting huge bonuses, especially in the light of the recession, caused in major part by the excesses of bankers.

The main argument against is that it will drive talented top bankers to countries outside the EU. This is a particular worry of the UK government, fearful of the effect on the City of London. There is also the criticism that it will simply drive banks into increasing basic salaries of senior executives to compensate for lower bonuses.

But it is not just the EU considering curbing bankers’ pay. The Swiss have just voted in a referendum to give shareholders the right to veto salaries and bonuses of executives of major companies. Many of these companies are banks or other financial sector organisations.

So just what will be the effect on incentives, banks’ performance and the movement of top bankers to countries without such caps? The following videos and articles explore these issues. As you will see, the topic is highly controversial and politically charged.

Meanwhile, HSBC has revealed its 2012 results. It paid out $1.9bn in fines for money laundering and set aside a further $2.3bn for mis-selling financial products in the UK. But its underlying profits were up 18%. Bonuses were up too. The 16 top executives received an average of $4.9m each. The Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, received $14.1m in 2012, 33% up on 2011 (see final article below).

Webcasts and podcasts
EU moves to cap bankers bonuses Euronews on Yahoo News (1/3/13)
EU to Curb Bank Bonuses WSJ Live (28/2/13)
Inside Story – Curbing Europe’s bank bonuses AlJazeera on YouTube (1/3/13)
Will EU bonus cap ‘damage economy’? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (28/2/13)
Swiss back curbs on executive pay in referendum BBC News (3/3/13)
Has the HSBC scandal impacted on business? BBC News, Jeremy Howell (4/3/13)

Articles
Bonuses: the essential guide The Guardian, Simon Bowers, Jill Treanor, Fiona Walsh, Julia Finch, Patrick Collinson and Ian Traynor (28/2/13)
Q&A: EU banker bonus cap plan BBC News (28/2/13)
Outcry, and a Little Cunning, From Euro Bankers The New York Times, Landon Thomas Jr. (28/2/13)
Bank bonuses may shrink – but watch as the salaries rise The Observer, Rob Taylor (3/3/13)
Don’t cap bank bonuses, scrap them The Guardian, Deborah Hargreaves (28/2/13)
Capping banker bonuses simply avoids facing real bank problems The Telegraph, Mats Persson (2/3/13)
Pro bonus The Economist, Schumpeter column (28/2/13)
‘The most deluded measure to come from Europe since fixing the price of groceries in the Roman Empire’: Boris Johnson attacks EU banker bonus cap Independent, Gavin Cordon , Geoff Meade (28/2/13)
EU agrees to cap bankers’ bonuses BBC News (28/2/13)
Viewpoints: EU banker bonus cap BBC News (28/2/13)
Voters crack down on corporate pay packages swissinfo.ch , Urs Geiser (3/3/13)
Swiss voters seen backing executive pay curbs Reuters, Emma Thomasson (3/3/13)
Swiss referendum backs executive pay curbs BBC News (3/3/13)
Voters in Swiss referendum back curbs on executives’ pay and bonuses The Guardian, Kim Willsher and Phillip Inman (3/3/13)
Swiss vote for corporate pay curbs Financial Times, James Shotter and Alex Barker (3/3/13)
HSBC pays $4.2bn for fines and mis-selling in 2012 BBC News (4/3/13)

Questions

  1. How does competition, or a lack of it, in the banking industry affect senior bankers’ remuneration?
  2. What incentives are created by the bonus structure as it is now? Do these incentives result in desirable outcomes?
  3. How would you redesign the bonus system so that the incentives resulted in beneficial outcomes?
  4. If bonuses are capped as proposed by the EU, how would you assess the balance of advantages and disadvantages? What additional information would you need to know to make such an assessment?
  5. How has the relationship between banks and central banks over the past few years created a moral hazard? How could such a moral hazard be eliminated?
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Bosses gain – workers’ pain

Two reports released by Incomes Data Services tell dramatically contrasting stories about pay in the UK. One report focuses on average pay in the public and private sectors, which are both likely to fall in real terms in 2011. Most public-sector workers will see a freeze in their wages and, whilst private-sector workers’ pay could rise by an average of 3%, this will still be below the rate of inflation. The press release Pay awards may rise but will trail inflation (6/1/11) to the report stated that:

Private sector pay settlements in 2011 could well be higher than in 2010, as long as the economic recovery remains on track. But following the latest increase in VAT, they are likely to trail inflation, meaning that the cost of living may be set to rise faster than average pay settlements for the second year running.

However, the press release to an earlier report, FTSE-100 bosses see earnings rise 55% (29/10/10), stated that:

FTSE-100 directors saw their total earnings boosted by an average of 55% while across the FTSE 350 as a whole total board pay went up by an average 45%, according to the latest Directors Pay Report, published by Incomes Data Services. (Year to June 2010)

On the back of these increases FTSE 100 chief executives took home £4.9 million on average in total earnings during the year.

Meanwhile, there is continuing public outcry over the levels of bank pay and bonuses. Despite billions of pounds of public money having been poured into banks to prevent their collapse, bank bosses are set to receive huge remuneration packages worth several million pounds in some cases. And, despite being condemned by the government, it seems there is little it can do to curb them.

So what are the causes of the growing income divide between those at the top and everyone else? And what are the economic consequences? The following articles explore the issues.

Articles: IDS reports
Year of pain predicted for workers.. while bosses’ salaries continue to grow Daily Record, Magnus Gardham (7/1/11)
Another 12 months of pay freeze misery for workers… but bosses enjoy a huge 55% salary increase Daily Mail, Becky Barrow (6/1/11)
Private-sector pay set to trail behind inflation People Management, Michelle Stevens (6/1/11)
Private pay deals to lag behind inflation Financial Times, Brian Groom (6/1/11)
UK boardroom pay rises 55% in an age of austerity Guardian, Simon Goodley and Graeme Wearden (29/10/10)
Private sector pay ‘to trail inflation’ in 2011 BBC News (6/1/11)
Staff morale warning over bosses’ pay rises Independent, Jon Smith (6/1/11)
‘Dose of reality’ call over top pay BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston, Brendan Barber and Garry Wilson (6/1/11)
‘Severe squeeze’ on average pay BBC Today Programme, Ken Mulkearn (Editor of the Incomes Data Services pay review) (6/1/11)
UK inflation rate rises to 3.7% BBC News , Ian Pollock (18/1/11)

Articles: bankers’ bonuses
Bank bonuses ‘to run to billions in 2011′ BBC News, (7/1/11)
Cameron says banks ‘should pay smaller bonuses’ BBC News, (9/1/11)
David Cameron warns RBS over bonuses Guardian, (9/1/11)
Banks say ‘no’ to bonus backdown Management Today, Andrew Saunders (7/1/11)
Banks to pay out billions in bonuses BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (6/1/11)
Why government can’t stop big bonus payments BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (7/1/11)
Diamond: ‘I am compelled to pay big bonuses’ BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (11/1/11)

Data
Average Weekly Earnings Incomes Data Services

Questions

  1. Why are average earnings likely to be less than the rate of inflation in 2011?
  2. Why were the directors of the FTSE 100 companies paid an average 55% pay increase for the year to October 2010?
  3. To what extent can marginal productivity theory explain the huge increases of bosses of top companies?
  4. If remuneration committees base executive pay increases on the average of the top 25% of increases of equivalent people in other companies (to stop ‘poaching’), what will be the implications for executive pay rises over time?
  5. What market failures are there in determining executive pay?
  6. What will be the implications for staff morale if their earnings are falling in real terms while their bosses are receiving huge pay increases? Should these implications be taken into account when deciding executive remuneration packages?
  7. Are shareholders in FTSE 100 companies likely to welcome the pay increases of their top executives? If so, why? If not, why not?
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New bonus caps: how will banks react?

We have covered the issue of bank bonuses in previous blogs. See for example: Banking on bonuses? Not for much longer (November 2009); “We want our money back and we’re going to get it” (President Obama) (January 2010); and Payback time (Updated April 2010). But the issue has not been resolved. Despite public outrage around the world over the behaviour of banks that caused the credit crunch and about banks having to be bailed out with ‘taxpayers money’ and, as a result, people facing tax rises and cuts in public-sector services and jobs, bankers’ pay and bonuses are soaring once more. The individuals who caused the global economic crisis seem immune to the effects of their actions. But are things about to change?

The Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has confirmed tough new guidelines on bank bonuses applying to all banks operating in the EU. The CEBS’s prime purpose in recommending restricting bonuses is to reduce the incentive for excessive and dangerous risk taking. As it states in paragraph 1 of the Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices:

Whilst institutions’ remuneration policies were not the direct cause of this crisis, their drawbacks, nonetheless, contributed to its gravity and scale. It was generally recognized that excessive remuneration in the financial sector fuelled a risk appetite that was disproportionate to the loss-absorption capacity of institutions and of the financial sector as a whole.

The guidelines include deferring 40–60% of bonuses for three to five years; paying a maximum of 50% of bonuses in cash (the remainder having to be in shares); setting a maximum bonus level as a percentage of an individual’s basic pay; appointing remuneration committees that are truly independent; publishing the pay and bonuses of all senior managers and ‘risk takers’. Although they are only recommendations, it is expected that bank regulators across the EU will implement them in full.

So will they be effective in curbing the pay and bonuses of top bank staff? Will they curb excessive risk taking? Or will banks simply find ways around the regulations? The following articles discuss these issues

Articles
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News, Hugh Pym (10/12/10)
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News (10/12/10)
Europe set to link banking bonuses to basic salaries The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (10/12/10)
Some bankers may escape EU cash bonus limit moneycontrol.com (India) (11/12/10)
Banks to sidestep bonus crackdown by raising salaries Guardian, Jill Treanor (10/12/10)
Bonuses: When bank jobs pay Guardian (11/12/10)
Bank bonuses (portal page) Financial Times

Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS)
CEBS home page
CEBS has today published its Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (CP42) CEBS news release (10/12/10)
Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (10/12/10)

Questions

  1. What are main objectives of the CEBS guidelines?
  2. Assess the arguments used by the banking industry in criticising the guidelines.
  3. In what ways can the banks get around these new regulations (assuming the guidelines are accepted by EU banking regulators)?
  4. What conditions would have to met for a remuneration committee to be truly independent?
  5. How likely is it that countries outside the EU will adopt similar regulations? How could they be persuaded to do so?
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“We want our money back and we’re going to get it” (President Obama)

With banks around the world revealing massive profits and huge bonuses, governments are getting increasingly uneasy that their bailouts have lined the pockets of bank executives. Not surprisingly voters are demanding that bankers should not be rewarded for their reckless behaviour. After all, it was taxpayers’ money that prevented many banks going bankrupt during the credit crunch.

Banks, of course, seek to justify the bonuses. If you don’t pay large bonuses, they maintain, then senior staff will leave and profits will suffer. It’s nothing to do with ‘morality’, they claim. It’s the market. ‘If you don’t pay the market rate, then executives will leave and take higher-paid jobs elsewhere.’

So are governments calling this bluff? In his pre-Budget report in December, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced a 50% tax on bank bonuses over £25,000. This was followed by an announcement by Nicholas Sarkozy that the French government would impose a similar 50% tax on bonuses over €27,500.

Then in mid January, President Obama proposed a tax on financial institutions with balance sheets above $50 billion. This would be levied at a rate of 0.15 percent of certain assets. But this was not a tax on bank bonuses, as favoured by the British and French governments, nor a tax on financial transactions – a type of Tobin tax – as favoured by Angela Merkel (see Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing). Nevertheless, it was another way of recouping for the taxpayer some of the money used to rescue banks and prevent a banking collapse.

So is this payback time for bankers, or will it simply be bank shareholders that suffer? And why can banks pay such large bonuses in the face of so much public hostility? The following articles explore the issues.

To leave or not to leave: the supertax question Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Kate Burgess (9/1/10)
French tax to raise €360m Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Ben Hall (13/1/10)
Oversized bank bonuses: classic case of overcharging The Business Times (Singapore), Anthony Rowley (15/1/10)
Obama vows to recoup ‘every dime’ taxpayers lent banks Belfast Telegraph (15/1/10)
Obama outlines $117bn bank levy (including video) BBC News (14/1/10)
Obama lays out his proposal to tax big US banks Sydney Morning Herald, Jackie Calmes (16/1/10)
Obama’s bank tax will only work if there’s a master plan in place Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (14/1/10)
Turning the tables The Economist (14/1/10)
Obama’s bigger rod for banks BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (14/1/10)
Will Obama’s tax go global? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (15/1/10)
Darling: I won’t do an Obama and tax the banks Scotsman, Eddie Barnes (16/1/10)
Obama tax is only the beginning of the banking Blitz Telegraph, Edmund Conway (15/1/10)
Bank taxes edge closer to the real target Guardian, Dan Roberts (15/1/10)

Questions

  1. Compare the incentive effects on bankers of the British, French and US measures discussed in the articles.
  2. Why does the ‘market’ result in high bank bonuses? Where does economic power lie in the market?
  3. Assume that you hold shares in Bank A. Would you welcome (a) high bonuses for executives of Bank A; (b) a tax on bank bonuses; (c) a ceiling on bank bonuses; (d) a tax on certain bank assets? Explain.
  4. What insights can game theory provide for the likely success in clawing back bank bonuses without doing damage to the economy?
  5. Consider whether Obama’s tax will “go global”.
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Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing

In these news blogs, we’ve considered a Tobin tax on a number of occasions: see A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? and Tobin’s nice little earner. On 10 December 2009, the Treasury published a discussion document, Risk, reward and responsibility: the financial sector and society. This, amongst other things, considers the case for a financial transactions tax – a form of Tobin tax. As Box 4.A on page 35 states:

“James Tobin’s original proposal for a transaction tax was to tax foreign exchange transactions. The purpose of the tax was to tackle excessive exchange rate fluctuation and speculation on currency flows, as Tobin felt that short-term movements in capital flows could severely limit the ability of governments and central banks to follow appropriate domestic policies for their economies.

However, the recent crisis has shown that there is considerable risk inherent in other financial markets. In some of these markets trading volumes have also grown enormously compared to the value of underlying assets. As set out above, instability may result from these markets due to the complex nature of counterparty networks and a lack of transparency, and the transmission of financial shocks through the system.

Recent attention has therefore focused on a broader tax on financial transactions – potentially, this would include trading in a wide range of instruments, currently traded both on and off-exchange.”

The goverment in the UK has recently taken one step in increasing taxes on the financial sector. In its 2009 pre-Budget report, delivered on 9 December (see Cutting the deficit and tackling the recession. Incompatible goals?), a new tax on bank bonuses was imposed. The rate is 50% on bonuses over £25,000. Since then a similar tax has been imposed in France and Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she found it a ‘charming idea’, although probably not practical under German law. She did support, however, the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions, similar to the one being considered in the UK. Such a tax, to be effective, would ideally have to be imposed worldwide, but at least by a large number of countries.

So is the case for a Tobin tax gathering momentum? The following video podcast considers the tax’s aims, effectiveness and practicality – as do the articles.

Video podcast
Radical Tobin Tax proposal could go mainstream BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (10/12/09)

Articles
Now’s the time for a Tobin tax Guardian, George Irvin (11/12/09)
EU leaders urge IMF to consider Tobin tax Financial Times, Tony Barber and George Parker (11/12/09)
We can always get to Utopia – even from here Irish Times, Paul Gillespie (12/12/09)
HM Treasury makes case for Tobin tax City A.M., Julia Kollewe (11/12/09)
The Tobin Tax – a brief history Telegraph (8/11/09)
European Union presses IMF to consider Tobin tax Telegraph (11/12/09)

Questions

  1. How do current proposals for a Tobin tax differ from Tobin’s original proposals (see Sloman and Wride, Economics 7th edition, pages 756–8 or Sloman and Hinde, Economics for Business 4th edition, pages 743–5)?
  2. Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets moving to longer-term equilibria.
  3. How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing?
  4. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
  5. What considerations would need to be taken into account in setting the rate for a Tobin tax on financial transactions?
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To pay or not to pay: that is the question

Life must be very hard for bankers in the UK. Not only are they being partly blamed for the current financial crisis, but they may now have to survive on just their salary. Imagine trying to have a happy Christmas when you’ve only earned £200,000 over the past year: it really will be a cold and hard Christmas for them. Unless of course, the government does call the bluff of the RBS directors who have threatened to quit if an estimated £1.5bn bonus pool for staff at the investment arm of the bank is blocked. Let’s not forget that RBS is largely owned by the public: 70% or an investment of £53.5bn. It’s our taxes that will be used to pay these bonuses giving 20,000 RBS bankers a salary that is at least 3 times greater than the national average.

RBS directors have threatened a mass walkout if the government does withhold the ‘competitive bonus package’. Given that many blame bank directors for plunging us into the credit crunch, some may laugh at their argument that if the bonus package is withheld, then ‘top talent will leave the bank’. However, it is a serious threat: pay out or we leave and you’ll see the profitability of the bank decline, making it less likely that taxpayers will see a ‘return’ on their investment. RBS needs to make profits to repay the taxpayer, but is the taxpayer willing to pay out? RBS directors argue that if its bankers do not receive bonuses, then RBS will lose out in recruiting the best talent. Why would a banker choose to work for a bank that doesn’t pay out bonuses?

Lord Mandelson said: “I understand the point that RBS directors are expressing – they say they have to remain competitive in the market in recruiting senior executives, and this is why it’s important that all the banks are equally restrained, and RBS is not singled out.” One solution here would be a one-off windfall tax on bonuses, or even a permanently higher rate of tax (a ‘supertax’) on bonuses.

Over the past year or so, not a day has gone by when banks are not in the news and the next few days look to be no exception. This is another issue that affects everyone, so read the articles below and make up your mind! The government has an important decision to make, especially given than it’s the taxpayers who will decide on the next government.

‘Bankers need to join the real world’ minister says BBC News (3/12/09)
UK seeks to calm fears of RBS walk-out over bonuses Reuters, (3/12/09)
RBS chief Stephen Hester set to walkout over bonus row Scotsman, Nathalie Thomas (3/12/09)
RBS directors threaten to quit over bonuses Big On News (3/12/09)
Thousands of Bankers paid £1m in bonuses Sky News (3/11/09)
Barclays bankers to get 150pc pay rise Telegraph, Jonathan Sibun and Philip Aldrick (3/12/09)
PM reacts to RBS Director’s threat ITN (3/12/09)
Banks criticise plans for windfall tax on bonuses BBC News (7/12/09)
Will biffing bankers also biff Britain? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (3/12/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)

Questions

  1. How are wages determined in the labour market? Use a diagram to illustrate this.
  2. Why do bankers receive such a high salary? (Think about elasticity.)
  3. What are the main arguments for paying out bonuses to bankers?
  4. If bonuses were blocked, and the RBS directors did walk out, what do you think would be the likely repercussions? Who would suffer?
  5. One argument for paying bonuses is that bankers need an incentive. Excluding monetary benefits, are there any other methods that could be used to increase their productivity?
  6. When we consider the labour market, we look at economic power. Who do you think has the power in this case and what do you think will be the outcome?
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Banking on bonuses? Not for much longer

The problem with banks and the financial sector is that we need them. Who knows what might have happened if the government hadn’t stepped in to bail out the banks. And that’s one of the key arguments for continuing to pay bankers’ bonuses. If they left their jobs and the banks ceased to exist, we’d be looking at a very bleak future.

The truth is: ‘we need them’ and, what’s worse, they know it. As Frank Skinner said in a Times article: ‘during the crisis bankers will be thinking, “Don’t panic. The public have got short memories. Show them the slightest hint of recovery and most of them will forget their moral indignation and we can start where we left off – making the biggest splashes we can and not worrying about the ripples” ‘.

Despite the argument for continuing to pay out bonuses, a large proportion of the public are understandably angry that bankers are still receiving enormous bonuses. Not only are banks and the financial sector largely responsible for the current recession, but it is taxpayers who have bailed them out and who now pay their bonuses. However, things could be about to change.

The FSA is set to get powers, allowing it to ‘tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts, especially for those taking reckless risks that threaten the stability of the financial sector. The new regulations will be found in the Financial Services Bill, which, if approved by Parliament, will apply to all British banks, as well as the British subsidiaries of overseas banks operating in the UK. Multi-million pound payments will be able to be blocked and fines will be imposed on banks who offer unjustified ‘mega-bucks pay-outs’.

Despite this impending regulation, not everyone thinks it will be successful. Sir George Mathewson, the former Chairman of RBS, has said that interfering with bankers’ contracts is a ‘dangerous route to go down’. Read the following articles that consider this contentious issue.

Bankers bonuses’ ‘will soar to £6bn’ after government bailouts and rising profits Times Online, Katherine Griffiths (21/10/09)
Bonus crackdown plans dangerous BBC News (16/11/09)
Financial regulation ‘has broken down’ BBC Today Programme (16/11/09)
Roger Bootle: Bank reform hasn’t gone far enough (video) BBC News (25/12/09)
FSA to get powers to tear up’ bankers’ bonus contracts Citywire, Nicholas Paler (16/11/09)
It’ll be tough for bankers on a £200k bonus Times Online, Frank Skinner (13/11/09)
Prince Andrew defends bankers’ bonuses even as economy stays mired in recession Mail Online, Kate Loveys (24/10/09)
Curb on bankers’ bonuses to be unveiled in Queens’ speech Mail Online (13/11/09)
Bankers warn laws on pay and bonuses will scare off talent Telegraph Angela Monaghan (13/11/09)
Labour to overturn bonus deals at risk-taking banks Guardian Patrick Wintour (13/11/09)
Banking on the State Guardian (17/11/09)
Queen outlines new banking laws BBC News (18/11/09)
Queen’s Speech: what the Financial Bill really means for bankers’ bonuses Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (18/11/09)
Brown Puts Deficit Curbs, Bonus Limits on U.K. Agenda Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Thomas Penny (18/11/09)
Queen’s speech 2009: financial services bill Guardian, Jill Treanor (18/11/09)

Questions

  1. What is meant by ‘regulation’ and what forms does it take?
  2. Why are banks and the financial services largely blamed for the current recession? Will financial regulation of bonuses prevent a repeat of the current crisis?
  3. What are the arguments for and against further regulation? Why does the former Chairman of RBS argue that cracking down on bonuses could be ‘dangerous’? Do you agree?
  4. Why are bankers paid so much? How is the equilibrium wage rate determined in this sector?
  5. Should bankers receive bonuses? Think about the incentive effect; the effect on productivity. What are the possible consequences for those working in banking of bonuses being reduced and possibly removed if they are deemed to threaten financial stability?
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A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (updated)

Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s financial sector regulator, has proposed the possible use of Tobin taxes to curb destabilising financial transactions. The late James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel prize in Economics, argued that a very small tax (between 0.1 and 1 per cent) should be imposed on foreign exchange transactions to dampen destabilising foreign currency speculation and thereby reduce exchange rate fluctuations. Lord Turner’s proposal would apply to a whole range of financial transactions, putting some friction in these very volatile and often highly leveraged markets. Such a tax would discourage some of the riskier and more exotic transactions on which many of the bonuses of bankers have been based.

Not surprisingly, his proposals have been met with derision by many in the banking sector. Many politicians too have been critical, arguing that the taxes will divert financial business away from London to other financial centres around the world. And yet, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on 24/25 September, both the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued in favour of such taxes. The result was that the IMF was asked to investigate the practicality of using Tobin taxes on financial transactions as a way of reining in more risky behaviour. A week later the IMF, while ruling out a simple Tobin tax, came out in favour of taxes on the global financial sector designed to reduce speculation.

So who is right? The following articles look at the issues.

FSA chairman Lord Turner says City too big Times Online (27/8/09)
Financial Services Authority chairman backs tax on ‘socially useless’ banks Guardian (27/8/09)
Cutting finance back down to size Financial Times (27/8/09)
Support for tax to curb bonuses BBC News (27/8/09)
FSA boss gets tough on bonuses (video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3) BBC News (27/8/09)
City tells FSA to stick to day job Reuters (27/8/09)
Charities applaud FSA’s support for new bank tax Guardian (27/8/09)
The time is ripe for a Tobin tax Guardian (27/8/09)
Ça fait malus: France gets tough on bankers’ pay The Economist (27/8/09)
Sarkozy chides bankers for bonuses, calls for tougher regulation (video) France 24 (18/8/09)
Politicians Clamp Down on Bankers’ Bonuses BusinessWeek (26/8/09)
Treasury would be crazy not to listen to Turner Guardian (27/8/09)
Three cheers for Turner and tax on easy money Guardian (27/8/09)
What is the City good for, again? Guardian (27/8/09)
Will Transaction Taxes Reduce Leverage? The Atlantic (27/8/09)
FSA backs global tax on transactions Financial Times (27/8/09)
The Tobin tax explained Financial Times (27/8/09)
Could ‘Tobin tax’ reshape financial sector DNA? Financial Times (27/8/09)

Postscript
Turner defends bank tax comments BBC News (30/8/09)
Turner stands firm after Tobin tax backlash Financial Times (1/9/09)
Brown calls for bank bonus reform BBC News (1/9/09)
Brown pledges bonus clampdown Financial Times (1/9/09)
Cut the banks (and bonuses) down to size Financial Times (31/8/09)

Postscript 2
Sarkozy to press for ‘Tobin Tax’ BBC News (19/9/09)
The wrong tool for the job The Economist (17/9/09)
Dani Rodrik: The Tobin tax lives again Business Standard (19/9/09)

Postscript 3
IMF presses for tax on banks’ risky behaviour Guardian (3/10/09)
IMF’s Strauss-Kahn puts bank tax on the agenda Times Online (3/10/09)
Banks and traders threatened by new international tax plan drawn up by IMF Telegraph (3/10/09)

Questions

  1. Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets movement to longer-term equilibria.
  2. How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing.
  3. How do Lord Turner’s proposals differ from those of President Sarkozy?
  4. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
  5. Explain what Lord Turner means by “the financial services industry can grow to be larger than is socially optimal”. How would you define ‘socially optimal’ in this context?
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Visions of Pittsburgh

The leaders of the G20 countries gathered in Pittsburgh on 24 and 25 September 2009 to discuss a range of economic issues. These included co-ordinated action to ensure the world economy maintained its fragile recovery; reforming the IMF; agreeing action on bank regulation and the limiting of bankers’ bonuses.

The following is a selection of podcasts and videos looking at various aspects of the summit and its outcomes. The first one, to set the scene, is a webcast from the IMF looking at the state of the world economy and the role of macroeconomic policy and banking regulation. There are also some articles looking at the achievements of the summit. (See here for G20 draft communiqué)

World Economic Outlook, September 2009 (video) IMF Webcast (22/9/09)
G20: Who will feel the pain and when? (video) BBC Newsnight (25/9/09)
G20 leaders meet in Pittsburgh BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
‘Little change’ in bank regulation BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
World Bank’s Zoellick on G20 Summit (video) CNBC News (25/9/09)
G20 ‘was a successful meeting’ BBC Today Programme (26/9/09)
Obama on G20 plans for financial reforms (video) BBC News (25/9/09)
Greater role for emerging powers BBC News, Amartya Sen (25/9/09)
Preventing Another Global Crisis (video) CBS News (25/9/09)
Obama hails progress at G20 (video) Reuters (26/9/09)

World map of deficits and stimulus spending
The cost of the financial meltdown: Deficits and spending BBC News

Articles:
G20: Banks to be forced to double capital levels Telegraph (25/9/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
Analyst View: G20 ends reign of G7 in Pittsburgh Reuters (25/9/09)
Leaders bury differences over bonuses to agree standards FInancial Times (26/9/09)
Same tune, different fiscal instrument on bank bonuses Times Online (25/9/09)
G20: History and fudge Peston’s Picks, BBC News (25/9/09)
What the G20 said on bonuses (and why it didn’t say much at all) eFinancialCareers (27/9/09)
Hamish McRae: G20 communiqué signals transfer of power to the emerging world Independent on Sunday (27/9/09)
The G20 fantasy Guardian (27/9/09)

Questions

  1. Explain the issues faced by the G20 countries.
  2. To what extent is trying to reach international agreement on co-ordinated action a prisoner’s dilemma game? Is it, nevertheless, a positive sum game?
  3. What was agreed at Pittsburgh and to what extent will it lead to action as opposed to being mere rhetoric?
  4. The G8 is effectively dead, having being replaced by the G20, plus Spain, The Netherlands and various international bodies, such as the IMF. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this move?
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