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Goldman in the Dock

| Craig Pirrong |

I have several reactions to the SEC’s fraud complaint against Goldman.

First, some of the more sensationalist reporting emphasizes that Goldman was short the RMBS structures that it was selling to its customers. (Yeah, it’s the NYT, basing its opinion on reporting by Wretched Gretchen Morgenson, so take it for what it’s worth–meaning not much.) Well, that’s true, but Goldman was also long.  After all, it was the counterparty, the protection seller, to Paulson’s CDS.  It then entered into offsetting transactions. Goldman was essentially a conduit of risk between other financial firms and Paulson. Note paragraph 66 of the complaint, which indicates that Goldman paid most of the $840 million it received on short positions in the  Abacus deals to Paulson. Goldman claimed in its response to the government’s Wells Notice that it was actually long because it retained a slice of the risk; the protection it sold to Paulson was for a larger portion of the potential losses than covered by the protection it bought from ACA Capital.   (more…)

19 April 2010 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

Why the Movie Industry Doesn’t Like “Trading Places” as a Reality Show

| Craig Pirrong |

The most recent derivatives/speculation kerfuffle involves something novel — futures contracts on movie box office receipts. Two entities, Cantor Fitzgerald and Movie Derivatives, Inc. have announced plans to introduce such contracts. The film industry is in a tizzy at the prospect, and has enlisted the help of the usual anti-speculation suspects on Capitol Hill.

The virulence of the reaction is interesting, and deserves explanation. Here’s my initial stab at the problem. (more…)

9 April 2010 at 9:10 pm 4 comments

The Chris Dodd Strangle Entrepreneurship Act, or, Where’s Creative Destruction When You Need It?

| Craig Pirrong |

Back in January, Tool Time star Tom Friedman lamented that Mr. Cool had turned his back on the “amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected.” Friedman all but begged Obama to spur entrepreneurship and innovation:

Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”

How’s that working out for you, Tom? With all the taxes on capital in the health care law, and the implicit tax on business expansion in the law (e.g., insurance mandates on companies with more than 50 employees), and all the taxes to come (there are murmurs of a VAT), it is becoming the year of Shut-Down America. The whole Obama program is poison to entrepreneurship.

And that’s just the start. Dodd’s banking bill explicitly targets startups:

Dodd’s bill would require startups raising funding to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and then wait 120 days for the S.E.C. to review their filing. A second provision raises the wealth requirements for an “accredited investor” who can invest in startups — if the bill passes, investors would need assets of more than $2.3 million (up from $1 million) or income of more than $450,000 (up from $250,000). The third restriction removes the federal pre-emption allowing angel and venture financing in the United States to follow federal regulations, rather than face different rules between states.

And just what are the apparatchiks in the SEC going to do in that 120 days? Just what knowledge and expertise can they bring to bear in evaluating the funding plans? The question answers itself; this adds costs and delay, for no perceivable benefit. And what reason is there to restrict the free flow of capital from consenting adults with over $1mm to startups? (more…)

5 April 2010 at 8:40 pm 2 comments

Price Level Shocks, uhm, Screwed Up Relative Prices, and Organization

| Craig Pirrong |

Peter’s post on the relation between inflation, vertical integration, and markets brings a couple of other thoughts to mind.

First, and most importantly, the number and characteristics of markets are endogenous too, and respond to changes in the amount of uncertainty in the environment, including the amount of uncertainty resulting from monetary shocks that (in Sherwin Rosen’s unforgettable in-class phrase) “f*ck up relative prices.” In particular, the number and variety of futures markets depends on the amount of uncertainty. The big boom in the creation of futures markets in the 1970s corresponds with, and was arguably caused by, the coincident inflation of that period, and the associated volatility in relative prices.

Second, although Peter’s point, and previous research, focuses on the implications of inflation on organizational choices and market vs. firm choices, in the current environment it is worthwhile pondering the implications of deflation. Certainly we have more research on the effect of inflation on the variability of relative prices due to our more recent inflationary experiences, and this was a major source of concern about inflation among Austrians, but the current situation makes it worthwhile to consider the effects of deflation on the pricing system, and firms’ responses to that.

Perhaps an examination of Japanese experience since 1990 would be worth some in-depth analysis.

Personally I am torn as to whether inflation or deflation is the greater risk in the near to medium term. The huge monetary overhang in the US and around the world (resulting from quantitative easing and other extraordinary monetary policies), and the inability of the Fed to commit credibly to drain reserves from the system when money demand picks up make me believe that it will be hard to avoid a burst of inflation. But all current indicators point to flat or declining prices.

It is hard to see things ending in a Goldilocks moment — just right. Thus, it is likely that that there will be a shock to prices generally, arguably a large one, and that this will disrupt relative prices for a variety of reasons. (Including, notably, the very likely case where these price level shocks lead to government policy interventions that distort relative prices.)

Thus, Peter’s research program may be rejuvenated, courtesy of the Fed, ECB, the Chinese Central Bank, etc. It is indeed an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

2 March 2010 at 2:29 pm 3 comments

Measure for Measure

| Craig Pirrong |

The FT has an interesting article about the difficulties and uncertainties facing cap & trade schemes, even in Europe where they’ve been implemented. A good part of the article focuses on the loss of intellectual coherence in climate policy in Europe, as regulations and taxes are being mooted to reduce CO2 emissions. Such command and control bolt-ons are inconsistent with the basic concept of cap & trade, which is that by determining a price of carbon the market will induce efficient responses to reduce emissions on all relevant dimensions:

And the more the carbon market shrinks in its ambitions, the more it faces a broader threat: that of losing touch with its original objective. Credits could continue being traded in the old way. But if the main thrust of carbon reduction is tackled by other means, the market could face questions about its social utility.

But to me, the most interesting part of the article relates to the arcane area of offsets: (more…)

8 February 2010 at 8:15 pm 2 comments

Stuck on the Methodological Hamster Wheel

| Craig Pirrong |

I’ve read John Cassidy’s New Yorker article (not available online) in which he described his journey to the freshwater provinces in his attempt to see whether the financial crisis had caused Chicago economists to reject their reactionary views. (With one exception, the answer is blessedly “no.”) I’ve also read his paean to Pigou in the WSJ. So I pretty much knew what to expect when I picked up his How Markets Fail. Let’s say I wasn’t disappointed, in the sense that my very low expectations were met.

The book is a very conventional, Stiglitz-esque critique of market economics and those who defend markets. The latter are always described with Homer-esque modifiers, just so you’ll know that they [we!] are retrograde knuckle draggers. (more…)

3 February 2010 at 12:50 pm 4 comments

Corporations Are People Too

| Craig Pirrong |

Legally, in some respects, anyways. That was a key issue in the recent Supreme Court decision re McCain-Feingold (see Dick’s post). I don’t have a lot to say about the specifics of the decision, as campaign finance law is way too arcane for me. Suffice it to say that I am inherently skeptical about any regulation regarding elections designed by incumbent politicians. People yammer about conflicts of interest all the time, but there’s a colossal one for you.

I just wanted to make a quick point about a debate between Stevens and Scalia carried out in the opinion and the dissent. Stevens noted that the Founders were deeply skeptical of corporations. Indeed so. Scalia noted that there are so many corporations today. Also true. The interesting question is how we got from A (Stevens) to B (Scalia).

The story is told in the North, Wallis and Weingast natural-state book Violence and Social Orders I’ve blogged about several times over at Streetwise Professor, mostly in the context of Russia. The relevant chapter is primarily based on John Wallis’s work. The basic story is that hostility to corporations — reflected very well in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations — was due to the fact that historically, English corporations were created by the crown, and were essentially very profitable favors provided to the politically connected. They were, in NWW terms, part of the “closed order” of the natural state, in which access to certain contracting forms was limited to a select powerful few. This animus towards corporations was inherited in the United States, but in the early years of the 19th century, state legislatures confronting issues associated with the financing of new infrastructure turned the corporate form into a prop of an open-order system in which this contracting form was made available to all. Rather than limit the right of incorporation to an elite, they made it available to everybody. The system changed from one in which legislatures had to grant every incorporation, to one in which pretty much anybody could incorporate if they met a set of general, universally applicable requirements. Hence, the proliferation of corporations. (more…)

25 January 2010 at 2:39 pm 2 comments

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Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, Organizing Entrepreneurial Judgment: A New Approach to the Firm (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
Peter G. Klein and Micheal E. Sykuta, eds., The Elgar Companion to Transaction Cost Economics (Edward Elgar, 2010).
Peter G. Klein, The Capitalist and the Entrepreneur: Essays on Organizations and Markets (Mises Institute, 2010).
Richard N. Langlois, The Dynamics of Industrial Capitalism: Schumpeter, Chandler, and the New Economy (Routledge, 2007).
Nicolai J. Foss, Strategy, Economic Organization, and the Knowledge Economy: The Coordination of Firms and Resources (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Raghu Garud, Arun Kumaraswamy, and Richard N. Langlois, eds., Managing in the Modular Age: Architectures, Networks and Organizations (Blackwell, 2003).
Nicolai J. Foss and Peter G. Klein, eds., Entrepreneurship and the Firm: Austrian Perspectives on Economic Organization (Elgar, 2002).
Nicolai J. Foss and Volker Mahnke, eds., Competence, Governance, and Entrepreneurship: Advances in Economic Strategy Research (Oxford, 2000).
Nicolai J. Foss and Paul L. Robertson, eds., Resources, Technology, and Strategy: Explorations in the Resource-based Perspective (Routledge, 2000).