Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Financial Crashes and Incentives

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winning economist, has an article in the New Republic on excessive risk taking and our financial crisis. He writes:
In recent years, financial markets created a giant rich man's casino, in which well-off players could take trillion dollar bets against each other. I am among those who believe that consenting adults should be allowed great freedom in what they do--as long as they don't harm others. But there's the rub. These high-rollers weren't just gambling their own money. They were gambling other people's money. They were putting at risk the entire financial system--indeed, our entire economic system. And now we are all paying the price.
Stiglitz discusses the incentives to take excessive risks, not surprising for someone who earned his Nobel Prize for information economics.

I think that this is the right focus, but I think the discussion could be sharpened by asking why hedge funds have incentive schemes that reward managers for excessive risk taking. Specifically, why has the system of "2 and 20" (two percent management fee and 20% of profits) survived. This system rewards excessive risk taking since in any good year the manager will earn large profits but the losses go to the shareholders. Other financial institutions face regulations to prevent excessive risk-taking but hedge funds keep their strategies as proprietary secrets -- after all, it is their trading strategies that is the only source of their rents. But why would rich people invest in funds with such incentive schemes? That is the question. We know why managers love it. This is the puzzle we need to solve.

No comments: