Monday, December 12, 2011

Technology to end debt?

I'm intrigued by this:
Don't subsidize short-term debt with a tax shield and regulatory preference; tax it; or ban it for anything close to "too big to fail." Fix the contractual flaws that make shadow bank liabilities prone to runs.

Here we are in a golden moment, because technology can circumvent all the standard objections. It is said that people need liquid assets, and banks must borrow short and lend long to provide such assets. But now, you could pay for coffee with an electronic transfer of mutual fund shares. The fund could hold stocks, or mortgage backed securities. Nobody ever ran on a (floating-NAV) mutual fund. With instant communication, liquidity need no longer coincide with fixed value and first-come first-served guarantees.

I'm also skeptical. If debt were forbidden, then many people would buy insurance against taking a loss (maybe measured against a consumer price index) when they make withdrawals exchange equities for goods and services. What will be the cost of this insurance? How about the insurer keeps any gains from asset appreciation? Oops, we just created a bank. How do you prevent insurers from becoming banks in this world? It seems like severe regulation would be needed.

And why do we want to live in this debt-free world? You have to trade fractional mutual fund shares for coffee. That sounds like barter, like a big step backward. Can I pay taxes with any mutual fund shares, or do I have to pay taxes with Federal Reserve Mutual Fund shares? If the latter, then wouldn't coffee shop owners be wise to demand payment in Federal Reserve Mutual Fund shares? Are we banning banking or nationalizing it?

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