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Finance and the Good Society The reputation of the financial industry could hardly be worse than it is today in the painful aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. This title explains how people in financial careers - from CEO, investment manager, and banker to insurer, lawyer, and regulator - can and do manage, protect, and increase these assets. Full description

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 3.6 étoiles sur 5 62 commentaires
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 A balanced defense of finance in the modern economy 22 mai 2012
Par DonL2507 - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
To many observers, particularly since the financial crisis of 2008, finance is a kind of rent-seeking bahavior equivalent to legal services in that it serves to redistribute wealth and not create wealth; the typical accusation is that it's involved with the buying and selling of things and not the making of things. Professor Shiller's latest book challenges these prejudices and ably discusses the critical role that finance, and all its many applications, performs in a modern, complex economy. His very definition of finance -- "the science of goal architecture", i.e., the structuring of economic arrangements to achieve given goals -- conveys its comprehensive role in our economy. Before the 1960s finance, particularly corporate finance, was largely accounting-oriented and rules-driven; since that time it's been a large and active branch of economics using the same sort of tools and analytical rigor.

Shiller breaks his book into two main parts: Part I discusses the roles and responsibilities of various participants in finance while the more interesting Part II covers some of the issues involved in finance that have received criticism like risk-taking, the use of leverage, and the costs of speculation. The overall argument is that strong, responsive and well-regulated financial institutions and well-developed and liquid financial markets are critical for an economy's success, and there's some macroeconomic research that links a strong financial infrastructure to greater economic growth. Finance provides the "lubricant" for the economy's smooth functioning; obviously, financial institutions and markets are required to transfer and price funds from "savings-surplus" economic units to "savings-deficit" economic units. The book is not particularly rigorous in its analysis of financial concepts and applications, but Professor Shiller strongly embraces a multidisciplinary approach to finance and often invokes research from psychology, sociology and neuroscience to illustrate their effect on financial behavior. The author has a socially liberal perspective and is often concerned with inequality in our economy. While he seems to hedge on whether finance contributes to that inequality, he has suggestions from finance itself for mitigating that inequality, e.g., derivatives on industry salary indexes, and fluctuating income tax rates based on the level of inequality in the economy. He's also a big believer in the historic "democratization of finance" (30-year mortgages, mutual funds, ESOPs) and he wants to see more of it in the future.

I think Shiller's defense of finance is largely compelling but I retain several reservations about his arguments for finance's role and contributions: (1) While the overlay of financial institutions and markets over the real economy may contribute to the real economy's growth, I'm concerned that finance also contributes to greater instability and asset bubbles. Shiller's more of a behavioral economist than an efficent markets proponent and has extensively researched the volatility of markets. In the late 1990s, if you could write a 5-page business plan you could get a $100 M high-yield debt issue done; in 2008-2009 if you had valuable collateral and good credit you might get an interview. Shiller himself says that business confidence is the major driving force of the economy and its "analogue" is credit conditions. (2) Since he's a finance professor, it's no surprise that he seems to believe that crafting financial contracts and designing new securities can solve almost all economic vicissitudes, and in furthering the "democratization of finance" he's got a host of ideas for new derivatives for the average person. One mild irritant in the book is that he asserts that cognitive errors caused by conservative biases are the reason why many new derivatives, including some of his own, have not been adopted. While I believe derivatives are a useful tool for risk management, creating a consistent index for new ones can be quite difficult. I write this while the august JPMorgan Chase is writing off $2 billion in derivative positions designed to hedge against slower economic growth because they proved too complex to manage. (3) While we've always needed speculators to provide needed liquidity in our financial markets, why does it appear that the speculators seem to take over markets (particularly derivative markets) from the risk-hedgers and exacerbate the volatility in those markets? I've read that 75% of the volume in the oil futures market is conducted by speculators. The professor doesn't seem to have an answer for this, except maybe to say that finance professionals, including his students, have an "impulse for risk taking".
31 internautes sur 35 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
1.0 étoiles sur 5 Dull and uninspired discussion of modern finance 5 décembre 2012
Par Antonio - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I'm a fan of Shiller's other books such as Irrational Exuberance and Animal Spirits. However I was disappointed with this book.

The first half of the book discusses the major players in the modern financial system. I didn't really enjoy this part of the book as most moderately informed readers already know the various roles, and the discussions didn't really seem to have much point.

Some chapters such as the one on insurance had some somewhat bizarre comments. For example Shiller complained that the media made too big a deal about the gulf of mexico oil spill. According to him the spill wasn't really much of a problem since most people had insurance and got some compensation for their losses. I found these remarks insensitive and lacking insight.

The second half of the book was somewhat better although the chapters were uneven. Many of them appeared somewhat aimless and not really contributing to some sort of cohesive theme. He spends too much time making excuses for some of the problems with the modern financial system. I believe in capitalism and markets, but I think there is plenty of room for improvement.

In summary I was very disappointed with this book, I didn't enjoy reading it, and I found some of Shiller's arguments poorly considered.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Friendly reminder of the role of finance but a little too forgiving of lapse of ethics 31 mai 2012
Par A. Menon - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Finance and the Good Society is Shiller's most recent work on the state and role of finance in society. Given the economic climate and the time weve now had to reflect, the book is a good addition to literature of late, which has primarily been focused on causes with a sprinkle of literature suggesting solutions. Shiller takes a different perspective and analyses the role of finance in society in general and the fundamental need of financial capitalism for modern society. He splits the book into two parts Roles and Responsibilities which is focused on the roles of agents of finance and the political economy and Finance and its Discontents, which reviews the failings of finance and the agency problems that exist.

Roles and Responsibilities is probably what many readers believe the author is too idealistic on. He describes the benefits that financial actors bestow on the economy by doing their job well. For all who have read New Financial Order, much of the ideas are associated with the ideas first stated there. The author basically makes the case that finance allows us to structure our means to achieve larger longer term goals. Financial industries all have their niche in expertise to help create financial solutions that allow for long term planning and if done properly our ability to structure investment gives us the freedom to plan more intelligently.

Finance and its Discontents discusses much of what frustrates most people as well as recent financial economic issues of importance. He discusses the motives of those in finance, the credit cycle, the ethical issues that arise in short term arms length finance and financial speculation among other things. The author qualifies most issues as being self adjusting and evidence of misdeed by the few not by all. As such it is too dismissive of the failings of finance and agency problems associated with the industry.

All in all, finance and the good society was a well thought out and articulate book. It is perhaps a little idealistic, but the author ends with an important reminding lesson- that wealth is a function of a functioning credit system that allows individuals to be productive in an organized coordinated framework, the "wealth" in the absence of finance and from the spoils of war are basically negligible. Finance is needed and as much as there is injustice that has been uncovered, the system as a whole is definitely required. In terms of how forgiving the book is, it is too forgiving and there is much behavioural science experiments that show that when money is involved people lose creativity (the candlestick problem) and it impacts honesty. As such, putting in place financial solutions for financial actors that remove agency problems should perhaps be studied more by the experts themselves. All in all an enjoyable book, though perhaps with heightened emotions it will be championed or angrily dismissed by many right now.
46 internautes sur 58 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Finally, a finance book liberal arts majors can appreciate 2 avril 2012
Par FY - Publié sur
Format: Relié
First of all, I would like to comment on the ingeniousness of the title "Finance and the Good Society." For "finance" generally brings to mind a world of relentless profit-seeking, while Good Society recalls one that is abundant in comforts, altruism and beauty. No two worlds could have been more antithetical, and surely, it is in the latter that human civilization and its most glorious achievements- arts, literature, music, ideas- thrive. Robert J. Shiller undermines this perceived relationship between the two concepts by effectively arguing that good society in fact, owes a great deal to finance.

The book even goes into some much appreciated etymology, such as the Latin roots of finance to mean "goal". One of the many memorable statements Shiller made included "Finance is the science of goal architecture". People design instruments like mortgage-backed securities so that we can afford to buy homes and exchanges are created to reduce the transaction costs of over-the-counter deals. Of course, people profit from these creations, but this does not give us sufficient reason to discredit these instruments and the benefits they bring.

Perhaps what this book does best is exposing our myopia, and often negative bias, regarding finance. But who can blame us? Given the 2008 financial crisis and the downfall of MF Global, the word "finance" has acquired a very bad taste. Because of its arcane nature of the subject, most people would much rather embrace this bias instead of understanding the problem in its entirety. To do so requires examining the micro-structures of decision making of financial institutions- be it the incentives of market makers or the credit rating agencies. Indeed, finance is not a centralized "master mind", must less a coordinated evil force, under which all individual players are subsumed. Instead, it is the players- the men and women and the specific roles they play in the industry- that one must focus on. It is the cogs that run the machine and not vice versa, and Schiller makes this powerful point.

In his introduction, Shiller makes an astute comparison between financial innovation and mechanical innovation. According to him (and Google), the term "financial innovation" was not officially recognized until the 1970s, when the first financial patent was approved. This made me think of a line in the recent movie, Margin Call, when a main character lamented (not exact words), "I used to build railways...xxxx number of passengers used this railway every day. Now I am selling these instruments for the bank (the point is that he can no longer quantify the benefits he is creating by selling these instruments)." He is wrong, Shiller would tell us. Just because a futures contract is less tangible than a railway does not mean that it has no quantifiable benefits (Richard Sandor makes a good attempt at quantifying these benefits in his book Good Derivatives: A Story of Financial and Environmental Innovation). More research should be done in this area, and Shiller has paved the path for us.
7 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
2.0 étoiles sur 5 Shiller is proposing radical solutions for the financial sector: more of the same 3 février 2013
Par Observer - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
The book posits that the financial sector would become a more responsible animal if more information were distributed to more people and if more creative financial instruments were developed. More oversight is not needed. More simplicity is not needed. And certainly less leveraged risky derivatives are not needed.
This is a strange thesis and means that the financial sector should be given continued permission to increase its earnings rather than serve as access to capital for job creating investments.
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