I have just came back from a fascinating conference in Tunisia. The theme of the event was the current crisis, which is rapidly deepening in developing countries as remittances, investment, export demand and other sources of revenue dry up. The purpose of the conference was to encourage more critical perspectives on how accounting and financial practices contributed to the underlying factors behind the crisis, and to explore possible remedies.
Key notes loudspeakers included Taoufik Baccar, Governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia; celebrated economist and retired banker Professor Chedli Ayari; Professor Shyam Sunder of the Yale School of Management; Professor Prem Sikka of Essex University; plus numerous others. I was asked to speak on the starting round table, kept under the title of choice Architectures for the Financial System.
I wanted to emphasise several factors. Firstly, at the origins of this crisis is situated the delusion that development can be suffered on the basis of rising consumer debt rather than rising real household earnings. Annual income twenty pounds, annual costs nineteen six, result pleasure. Annual income twenty pounds, annual costs twenty pound ought and six, result misery.
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Second, the crisis has not exposed the usual suspect rotten apples just. Third, the turmoil has uncovered the massive disconnect between market practice and theory. The idea is that markets only operate efficiently in public interest when information is shared symmetrically between buyers and sellers. Used, the contrary pertains. Much materials information is withheld from key players Too, including traders.
Assets and liabilities are kept off-balance sheet. Intra-group activities are wrapped into consolidated accounts up. Information about ownership is disguised through offshore companies and trusts with nominee directors and shareholders. Secrecy jurisdictions across the global world allow incorporated companies to trade outside their jurisdiction with no financial reporting requirement. Banks create complex shadow banking structures which operate outside the spheres of regulatory controls. Far from being clear and efficient, markets have becoming opaque and complex significantly, with hidden risks and an inevitable loss of trust between your players.
In other words, the prevailing orthodoxy preaches the vocabulary of financial transparency but does not have any clear notion of what that means and how it can be operationalised. Worse still, their actions show a common preference for covertness and secrecy, a lot of which is rooted in the intense tax avoidance structures that most companies now operate. Fourth, our old friends the secrecy jurisdictions have performed a key role in fomenting crisis and more generally making the world a far more unequal, and hence less secure, place.