Animal Spirits, Princeton by Akerlof and Shiller

By Akerlof and Shiller

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S. Treasury; they did not accept that the bonuses were a business necessity given the compensation practices in the financial services industry and the need to retain expertise in a company now owned by the taxpayers. The House quickly passed legislation (of dubious constitutionality) taxing the bonuses at a 90 percent rate. The House engaged in cheap populist theater, knowing the Senate would never go along. And the Senate did not. Although the malleable and procyclical expectations of investors and politicians play a very important role in generating financial crises, we argue that they are far from the only beliefs that matter.

16 Free market conservatism had been reinforced by “the great moderation,” a period that roughly corresponds to the forty years when Greenspan’s ideology worked—­a period in which central banks tended to become independent and limited their policy interventions to targeting inflation. Theoretically, limited intervention was reinforced by the rational expectations school in economics that led to the efficient markets hypothesis in finance. Rational expectation models predicted that government intervention has no beneficial long-­term effects on markets.

The executives of financial firms at the center of the bubble were getting rich. Clearly, they had an incentive to pressure the government not to intervene. Real estate developers gorged on the subsequent construction boom. The increased volume benefited real estate agents, mortgage brokers, title insurance companies, and 28 • Part I construction workers, and, at least until 2008, investors in the stocks of financial firms. Loan originators were particularly important beneficiaries. They profited from the increased volume as relaxed lending standards fueled demand for mortgages.

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