Samstag, 11. April 2015

Reflexion über den Wert der Finanzbranche

... von einem Harvard-Professor in der NYT.
Sendhil Mullainathan scheint ein wenig traurig darüber zu sein, dass es so viele Harvard-Absolventen in die Finanzbranche zieht, und er fragt sich, ob dies aus gesellschaftlicher Perspektive wünschenswert ist.

Sein Beitrag zitiert u.a. auch einige volkswirtschaftliche Studien zu dem Thema, deren Resultate vielleicht unter dem Motto "zu viel Finanzindustrie ist nicht gut" zusammengefasst werden können.

Mullainathan schreibt:
"Many of the best students are not going to research cancer, teach and inspire the next generation, or embark on careers in public service. Instead, large numbers are becoming traders, brokers and bankers. At Harvard in 2014, nearly one in five students who took a job went to finance. For economics majors, the number was closer to one in two. I can’t help wondering: Is this the best use of talent? [...]

As an economist, I look at it this way: Every profession produces both private returns — the fruits of labor that a person enjoys — and social returns — those that society enjoys. [...]

It is important to remember that it is not just inventors, teachers or nonprofit workers who provide more social than private value. This is an economic insight as old as Adam Smith: Thanks to the division of labor, in a well-functioning market we can do our own thing and still contribute to the greater good. Inventors may be supervalue-adders, but most of us add value, albeit to a lesser degree. This is a comforting power of markets: We can do good for society simply by doing what we do well.

But not everyone contributes in this way. In an influential paper, the economists Kevin M. Murphy and Robert W. Vishny, both at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and Andrei Shleifer at Harvard University argue that countries suffer when talented people become what we economists call “rent seekers.” Instead of creating wealth, rent seekers simply transfer it — from others to themselves. [...]

Job titles don’t tell you whether someone is primarily a rent seeker. A lawyer who helps draft precise contracts may actually be helping the wheels of commerce turn, and so creating wealth. But trial lawyers in a country with poorly functioning tort systems may simply be extracting rents: They can make money by pursuing frivolous lawsuits.

In this respect, finance is a vexing industry. Take arbitrage — a common way to make money in finance. Find a stock that should be valued at $15 but that is trading at $10, buy it, wait and hope. You might assume that stock markets are just a big casino, in which skilled traders extract money.

But arbitrageurs can create value, and stock markets can play an important social function. They determine which companies receive capital cheaply and which pay a heavy price for it, determining where factories are built, which retail stores are expanded and where research and development happens. Mispriced stocks can mean misplaced investments. Arbitrageurs help get the prices right, and that’s important.

Still, arbitrage is valuable only to a point. It has a gold rush element with prospectors racing to get to the gold first. While finding gold has value, finding gold before someone else does is mainly rent-seeking. 

The economists Eric Budish at the Booth School of Business and Peter Cramton at the University of Maryland, and John J. Shim, a Ph.D. candidate at Booth, have shown in a study how extreme this financial gold rush has become in at least one corner of the financial world. From 2005 to 2011, they found that the duration of arbitrage opportunities in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange declined from a median of 97 milliseconds to seven milliseconds. No doubt that’s an achievement, but correcting mispricing at this speed is unlikely to have any real social benefit: What serious investment is being guided by prices at the millisecond level? Short-term arbitrage, while lucrative, seems to be mainly rent-seeking. [...]

So how should I feel about my students going into finance? I hope they realize that they have the potential to do great good and not simply make money. It may not be how the industry is structured now, but idealism and inventiveness are two of the best traits of youth, and finance especially could use them."

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