Monday, December 15, 2008

Wagner: Part Professor, Part Prophet

As Tyler Cowen and Pete Boettke have noted, Richard Wagner (my macro professor!) accurately analyzed the underpinnings of this so-called financial crisis some three years ago. As evidence, check out this question from a 2005-06 PhD field exam:
Joseph Schumpeter claimed that capitalism would give way to socialism largely for ideological reasons. This does not seem to have happened, at least directly. But might it be happening indirectly? Consider, for instance, a significant change that has occurred in the economic organization of debtor-creditor contracts. Not too long ago, lenders held their loans in their portfolios. They would lose if the borrower defaulted, which gave the lender a strong incentive to monitor the borrower, particularly for large loans. Now, lenders split their loans into numerous small pieces and disperse them throughout the economy. (For instance, many people who hold mutual funds and retirement accounts will find that they are holding small pieces of large loans made by commercial banks.) The burden of non-performing loans is thus dispersed throughout the economy rather than residing with the original lender. Does this development weaken the incentive of lenders to monitor borrowers and thereby weaken overall economic performance? That is, can market transactions generate institutional arrangements that impair the market economy? However you address this topic, do so clearly and cogently.
I will be taking Wagner's Macro exam this evening. And thanks to recent events, I will NOT be missing this question--should it come up.