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This is the second half of my search for the causes of the microfinance crisis and suicide tragedy in Andhra Pradesh. In my last posting, I outlined the macro causes as I saw them. I found evidence that MFIs were charging borrowers interest rates over and above what they actually could have charged them. I also found that the government failed to regulate despite an evident lack of self-regulation; that is, until Andhra Pradesh clamped down two weeks ago. In this posting I search for micro-level causes.

Since my last post, SKS on Saturday posted profits up by 116 percent y-o-y (read: more than doubled), and also apparently held a secret board meeting over the weekend. You don’t need to be a Marxist to find a steep rise in profits disturbing for a bank which lost at least 17 of its clients to debt-driven suicide in the same quarter. Yet the crisis in AP is far bigger than SKS, and the five biggest MFIs’ have realised this and collectively announced last Friday to restructure distressed loans. Finally. It took nearly two months of suicides, a heavy-handed regulatory clampdown and a media backlash to drive enough sense into the MFIs. The women’s Self-Help-Group movement is also pushing for better regulation. How did we get here in the first place?

The poor are prone to debt traps

The media have caught onto some of the macro issues, but here I will identifiy drivers for the heavy debt burdens and suicides which operate at the micro level. We must be aware that suicide in India is already shockingly common among farmers. But many, if not most victims in AP were small traders, not subsistence farmers, so we’re dealing with a new phenomenon here.

It is no surprise that highly-indebted microfinance borrowers can be driven into debt spirals towards MFIs under conditions of heavy marketing, misinformation, social pressure to join self-help groups, and the vagaries of economic life at the bottom of the social order. If one thing goes wrong (an illness, a crop loss), an apparently sensibly invested loan suddenly turns into an insurmountable debt burden (see these media reports for illustrations of microfinance-funded debt traps). In reality, “India Shining” is home to some of the poorest people in the world. As we saw last week, some microfinanciers are apparently out of touch with this reality. Atul Takle of SKS went on the record telling the Associated Press, “I personally don’t think a person would take her life for 225 rupees ($5.08) a week.” But four out of five people in India live on less than 20 Rupees a day (2007; latest figure I could find).

This (self-drafted, non-exhaustive) list outlines individual causes for the poor taking on unsustainable debt. It shows that there are mulitple reasons for the poor falling into microfinance debt traps, and that most are outside of their control. Read the rest of this entry »

Capitalism as a system transcends borders, and so does the latest capitalist crisis. Sometimes pictures tell a story better than words. A brilliant animated cartoon appeared this summer on youtube, illustrating a lecture by CUNY-based British social theorist David Harvey in which he outlines his explanation of the 2008-20xx economic crisis.

Harvey’s analysis of the structural politico-economic origins and mechanisms of the crisis is poignant. The witty animation brought to life by the RSA is a true delight, regardless of what one may think of his arguments. A certain part of Harvey’s narrative caught my eye in relation to microfinance (more below). But first, let me briefly recap his story (in an unduly simplified manner). Harvey says:

There are five common explanations of the crisis, all of which are somewhat true:

[1] It stems from human nature – predatory instincts, greed, etc.

[2] The regulators failed, therefore institutions need to be reconfigured.

[3] Everyone believed in a false theory – forget Hayek, return to Keynes!

[4] It has cultural origins – homeowning-obsessed Americans and lazy Greeks, your fault!

[5] It’s a failure of policy – too much regulation of the wrong sort.

Read the rest of this entry »

This article first appeared in the Paris newspaper La Tribune on February 9, 2010, and is translated and adapted here with permission of the authors. Paul Lagneau-Ymonet is a member of the Research Group Institution Building Across Borders at the MPIfG.

To date, the organization of securities markets has not yet benefited from the feigned attempts of reform presented by authorities since the outbreak of the current crisis. However, speculative opportunities like the risks incurred also depend on the markets on which one operates. It is for this reason that the coming revision of the European Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), which came into effect on November 1st, 2007, is such a considerable challenge.

This Directive reflected an incredible faith in the coordinating virtues of the market – the central idea being that competition between exchanges and other trading venues would reduce transaction costs, increase trading volume and, as a result, lower the cost of capital for issuers. The MiFID notably abolished the ‘concentration rule’, which, in a number of countries (i.a. France), imposed intermediaries to carry out most of their transactions on a single regulated market, so as to concentrate the liquidity and to establish, for each security, a “fair price” known to all. Eventually, the directive has made possible the emergence of various opaque trading venues that challenge more transparent regulated markets.

Reports from the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR) and from the French Association of Financial Markets (AMAFI) reveal the extent of the disillusionment. The lower fees that resulted from unleashed competition have only benefited to a few internationally operating banks, namely about ten institutions that are responsible for three-quarters of the financial transactions in Europe. But the end clients – private individuals, in particular – do not fare as well. Read the rest of this entry »

This post is provided by our “guest blogger” Glenn Morgan. Glenn Morgan is Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Associate Dean for Research at Warwick Business School.

The last few weeks have seen a number of news stories indicating that the broad agreement reached by the G20 in early 2009 regarding the regulation of Over the Counter (OTC) derivatives is breaking down. On January 5th 2010, for example, the Financial Times titled ‘Cracks in transatlantic derivatives rules‘. In the UK, the Financial Services Authority and the Treasury published in December 2009, a report on regulation of these marketswhich, whilst couched in supportive language, made a number of criticisms of the Commission of the European Communities document on this topic published in October 2009 .

Meanwhile in the US, the US Treasury is aiming to achieve legislation on this topic; in Congress, the House has agreed a draft bill which differs again in some respects from both the UK and the EU and the Senate is due to consider the issue this month. Most recently, non-financial companies in the EU under the aegis of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers have protested strongly about some of the existing proposals in a letter addressed to the EU Commission on the grounds that they will financially penalize them .

The result is a somewhat confusing situation in which the danger is that regulation will not be coherent across the main financial markets and regulatory arbitrage will emerge, potentially paving the way for a further destabilisation of the global economy.  Many of these debates and differences appear very technical but as I have sought to show in a recent article on ‘Legitimacy in financial markets: credit default swaps in the current crisis’ in Socio-Economic Review, underlying them are major issues of politics and power.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
January 2019
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