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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Political Risk in Systemic Risk: Finnish Pensions Err in Debt Crisis

Finland became a state in the European Union in 1995 and adopted the euro at its birth in 1999. In terms of population, the state is between Wisconsin and Minnesota, both of which are states in the United States. The Finnish culture prizes saving as well as paying-off debt on time. As the Wall Street Journal put it, the Finns are more German in this sense than are the Germans themselves. It is easy to understand, therefore, why the Finns would not have been excited about the write-offs in Greek government in 2012. The Finnish cultural attribute here is an ideological proclivity. Such a value-system so deeply held can even eclipse or interfere with an otherwise unfettered risk-return trade-off presumed to be part of the market mechanism. Just as the risk-return investment-pricing froze rather than adjusted upward with the leap in risk in CDOs and the related insurance swaps that occurred on Wall Street in 2007 and 2008, the decisions of Finnish pension fund officers in the wake of the European debt crisis to pull out of Greek and Spanish bonds rather than simply to demand a higher rate of return, given the higher risk, likely means that the market mechanism itself freezes rather than functions at levels of high risk (or when risk is increasing dramatically). In other words, the theory of the laissez-faire market, which Adam Smith never advocated, has a serious flaw that is reflected in the mechanism in operation when there is a spike in risk. Un prix ne marche pas quand il y a beaucoup du risque. The free market mechanism in the investment market tends to freeze up rather than re-price instruments whose risk is quickly increasing to a significant degree.

The full essay is in Essays on the E.U. Political Economy, available in print and as an ebook at Amazon.