Paul Volcker was Chair of the US Federal Reserve from 1979 to 1987. He was also Chair of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board under President Barack Obama from February 2009 to January 2011. In the webcast and articles below, he reflects on the current state of the world financial system – from regulation, to the euro crisis, to world imbalances, to the system of floating exchange rates.
He argues that global financial systems are vulnerable to breakdowns. What is needed is reform to the system, and for that there needs to be consensus by politicians, regulators and central banks.
But, in the absence of international consensus on some key points, reform will be greatly weakened, if not aborted. The freedom of money, financial markets and people to move – and thus to escape regulation and taxation – might be an acceptable, even constructive, brake on excessive official intervention, but not if a deregulatory race to the bottom prevents adoption of needed ethical and prudential standards.
Perhaps most important is a coherent, consistent approach to dealing with the imminent failure of “systemically important” institutions. Taxpayers and governments alike are tired of bailing out creditors for fear of the destructive contagious effects of failure – even as bailouts encourage excessive risk-taking.
According to Volcker, countries must be prepared to surrender some sovereignty. Policies must be co-ordinated internationally and there must be stronger regulation by international bodies, such as the IMF and stronger concerted action by global organisations, such as the G20.
Not so long ago, we were comforted by theorising that floating exchange rates would mediate international adjustments in a timely and orderly way. But, in the real world, many countries, particularly but not limited to small, open economies, simply find it impractical or undesirable to permit their currency to float.
We are left with the certainty, however awkward, that active participation in an open world economy requires some surrender of economic sovereignty. Or, to put the point more positively, it requires a willingness to co-ordinate policies more effectively.
Volcker Urges Global Monetary System Overhaul BloombergBusinessweek (31/5/12)
Is global financial reform possible? Guardian, Paul Volcker (6/6/12)
Volcker Urges Global Financial System Overhaul After Crisis BloombergBusinessweek, Robyn Meredith and Shamim Adam (31/5/12)