Paul Volcker Brings Reason to the Debate on Financial Reform

Download 2009-12-14 Paul Volcker Says Financial Players Need to Think More Boldly About Reform – WSJ.com

MR. VOLCKER: A few years ago I happened to be at a conference of business people, not financial people, and I was making a presentation. The conference was being addressed by a very vigorous young investment banker from London who was explaining to all these older executives how their companies would be dust if they did not realize the joys of financial innovation and financial engineering, and that they had better get with it.

I was listening to this, and I found myself sitting next to one of the inventors of financial engineering. I didn't know him, but I knew who he was and that he had won a Nobel Prize, and I nudged him and asked what all the financial engineering does for the economy and what it does for productivity.

Much to my surprise, he leaned over and whispered in my ear that it does nothing—and this was from a leader in the world of financial engineering. I asked him what it did do, and he said that it moves around the rents in the financial system—and besides, it's a lot of intellectual fun.

Now, I have no doubts that it moves around the rents in the financial system, but not only this, as it seems to have vastly increased them.

How do I respond to a congressman who asks if the financial sector in the United States is so important that it generates 40% of all the profits in the country, 40%, after all of the bonuses and pay? Is it really a true reflection of the financial sector that it rose from 2½% of value added according to GNP numbers to 6½% in the last decade all of a sudden? Is that a reflection of all your financial innovation, or is it just a reflection of how much you pay? What about the effect of incentives on all our best young talent, particularly of a numerical kind, in the United States?

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