Monday, August 8, 2011

Bodies, Big Brains and Regulatory Reform

When I started this post, it was just a listing of two things I found interesting. Then I realized they were connected. So... what are the two articles?

  1. A Body Fit for a Freaky-Big Brain, summarizing research on the anatomical adaptations necessary to accommodate our over sized brains -- which use 20 times as much energy per pound as muscle tissue. Among the factors identified: reduction in the amount of gut tissue (also very energy intensive); shifting of diet to a higher energy cuisine based on seeds, tubers and meats; and a genetic adaptation in glucose transporters that resulted in extra molecular pumps to funnel sugar into the brain, while starving muscles by giving them fewer transporters.
  2. Individuals interested in takes on the financial collapse will want to check out Capital Inadequacies The Dismal Failure of the Basel Regime of Bank Capital Regulation. Put out by the libertarian Cato Institute, the paper provides 40 pages or so of analysis aimed at a) documenting that regulatory solutions to financial matters are misplaced because regulatory apparatus is subject to capture and b) advocating a solution based on financial laissez faire.
The solution is free banking or financial laissez faire. The state would withdraw entirely from the financial system and, in particular, abolish capital adequacy regulation, deposit insurance, financial regulation, and the central bank, as well as repudiate future bailouts (and especially the doctrine of Too Big to Fail). ... Such systems have worked well in the past, and reforms along these lines would take the United States a long way back to its banking system of a century ago, in which banks were tightly governed and moral hazards and risk taking were well controlled because those who took the risks bore their consequences.

Now we can debate the empirical validity of these claims -- the individuals who lost all their savings in the bank runs of the Great Depression probably wouldn't agree that "those who took the risks bore their consequences" -- but that isn't the point.

Compare the view of systems and adaptation in the two scenarios. In the first article the "system" is the human body. The basic argument is that modification of one major subsystem (the brain) necessitated modification to other parts of the system in order for the "big brained" version of humans to survive. Contrast this with the view of the economic system advanced in the Cato Institute analysis. Over the past century the economy has changed dramatically. The growth of financial services as the mainstay of many advanced economies is the equivalent of the emergence of big brains -- one particular part of the system is becoming unusually important. A century ago, advanced economies were based on manufacturing and agriculture. Today, these sectors play a comparatively minor role and financial services (conventionally rendered as Wall Street) rule. But, rather than recognizing that change in one part of the system requires an adjustment in other parts of the system, the Cato paper argues for stability in the other aspects of the system (as expressed in the desire for a banking system similar to what was in place in 1910).

There is also a confusion Cato Institute paper about the role of organization (regulation) as it characterizes complex systems, but getting into that would be another (lengthy and necessarily technical) post.

No comments:

Post a Comment