Saturday, January 21, 2012

International Financial Crisis Seminar

I'm taking a seminar this semester on the International Financial Crisis with University of Michigan Professor Emeritus Robert Stern. We are reading Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy by Raghuram Rajan. Some of his arguments are very persuasive. I like how he presents the problems in the global economy in terms of systemic tensions. Although he doesn't exactly say it this way, my conclusions after reading some of his book is that no country in the world really knows how to shift to an economy where low-skilled labor is no longer really needed. In other words, in a world where you only need a few highly skilled people to produce the majority of goods, how do you still distribute the goods? Maybe finally, this is where communism comes in.

At the same time, perhaps the case is overstated. Clearly we still have plenty of things to do for low-skilled labor on farms and perhaps cleaning the environment. But there is much more money for skilled labor perhaps because there is not enough supply of skilled labor. At the same time, I'm not sure if this is correct because there is plenty of unemployed skilled labor as well as unskilled labor in Europe.

In Fault Lines, Rajan talks about how many financial crisis such as the Great Depression and Great Recession were related to expansions of credit for housing. Because housing itself is a necessity and that the education system in the US is funded by local taxes, housing is particularly important in the US for social mobility and neighborhood stability. It made me think about how many people make money from investments, but because of the transaction costs, it only makes sense if you have a certain amount of income. Perhaps there is a way to lower the entry costs so that there is more of a cushion for lower income households.

Where do we go from here? Unclear. I suppose we continue to muddle through.

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