Economics and Business
One hundred years ago the idea of ‘the economy’ didn’t exist. Now, improving ‘the economy’ has come to be seen as one of the most important tasks facing modern societies. Politics and policymaking are increasingly conducted in the language of economics and economic logic increasingly frames how political problems are defined and addressed. The result is that crucial societal functions are outsourced to economic experts. The econocracy is about how this particular way of thinking about economies and economics has come to dominate many modern societies and its damaging consequences. We have put experts in charge but those experts are not fit for purpose.
A growing movement is arguing that we should redefine the relationship between society and economics. Across the world, students, the economists of the future, are rebelling against their education. From three members of this movement comes a book that tries to open up the black box of economic decision making to public scrutiny. We show how a particular form of economics has come to dominate in universities across the UK and has thus shaped our understanding of the economy. We document the weaknesses of this form of economics and how it has failed to address many important issues such as financial stability, environmental sustainability and inequality; and we set out a vision for how we can bring economic discussion and decision making back into the public sphere to ensure the societies of the future can flourish.
This chapter uses evidence from a curriculum review of seven universities across the UK to show how the philosophy which underpins econocracy is being passed down to the next generation of economic experts. The curriculum review analyses 174 economics modules using the course outlines and exams to illustrate that economics students are taught to memorise and regurgitate a narrow body of subject matter not think independently or critically.
This chapter argues that we need new political and economic institutions which are participatory, inclusive and accessible and sets out some ideas about how this can be achieved. These can be the catalyst for the development of a popular democratic culture of public participation in economic discussion and decision making.
Chapter 5 sets out a vision of a pluralist, critical and liberal economics education. However, it also shows how higher education has been reshaped in ways which makes positive reform increasingly difficult and set out a number of practical reforms which could be implemented within the current system.
Chapter 4 details the history of how the discipline of economics came to be so narrow and the more recent student led movements to reform it. It also includes a critique of the new CORE syllabus.
This chapter covers the leading theories of the markets. The dominant theory of the Efficient Market Hypothesis distracted regulators, market participants and central bankers from paying attention to market prices as signals or from recognizing the existence of bubbles in the housing market, as Alan Greenspan admitted. The behavioural theorists shift the emphasis away from examining trends in the market data and developing models to explain them, to the behaviour of investors in the market, or rather to the factors influencing their behavior. There are two building blocks of behavioural finance: one is that in an economy where rational and irrational traders interact, 'irrationality can have a substantial and long-term impact on prices'. The second building block is psychology. Swedburgh's paper is important in that it points out that trust underlies the smooth, or one might say, efficient functioning of the market.
Under its dramatic headline, 'Mayer Lehman's chaotic bankruptcy filing destroyed billions in value', the Wall Street Journal proclaimed that a 'less hurried Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing would have preserved tens of billions of dollars of value'. International derivative contracts were not the only problem. Its collapse resulted in over 75 separate and distinct bankruptcy proceedings immediately, and affected thousands of financial market participants through its wide range of contracts. It is important to focus on the procedures set out by International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and to consider what contribution the Master Agreements were able to make to sorting out the enormous number and the wide range of derivatives, running into trillions of dollars. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, regulators turned their attention to capital, liquidity and supervision, in order to prevent the failures of what then became known as 'systemically important financial institutions' (SIFIs).
On 10 September 2008, Dick Fuld presented what would be the firm's last earnings report, announcing the loss of $3.9bn, the second quarterly loss that had increased from the previous quarter's loss of $2.8bn. It also released some plans and proposed actions, which included the increase in total stockholders' equity, spin-off of certain commercial real estate assets, and a potential deal with a Korean sovereign wealth fund. All of the proposed actions were no more than plans, as opposed to completed deals or agreements. Just two days after Mayer Lehman filed for Chapter 11, Barclays announced that it would acquire Lehman Brothers North American investment banking and capital markets operations and supporting infrastructure. That included Lehman Brothers' New York headquarters and two data centres, all for $1.75bn, a price which the New York Times described as a 'fire sale' and which was much less than Lehman expected.
Mayer Lehman Brothers' long history began with three brothers, immigrants from Germany, setting up a small shop in Alabama, selling groceries and dry goods to local cotton farmers. Their business soon evolved into cotton trading. Dick Fuld made a series of acquisitions, designed to lessen Lehman's dependence on fixed-income trading, and focus attention on mergers and acquisitions, investment banking and raising capital. He began the process of restructuring the company so that it consisted of three major operating units: investment banking, equities and fixed income. He refocused the company's activities on high-margin business such as mergers and acquisitions, bringing in experienced senior staff to manage the business. The description of the company's activities reflected both the move away from fixed income trading, and Fuld's ambitions for Lehman Brothers.