National laws for global capital markets - A contradiction?
Through globalisation of capital markets the linkage between countries respectively governments has increased. But not only countries are affected. The rise of interchange of deposit money affects every participant of the globalised world. This phenomenon is no innovation of the 21st century. It was mentioned in literature before: ‘… the financial system has been changing rapidly in recent years and has now become a truly global market-place’ (Gowland (1990) p.80). The starting point may be considered in 1971/73 when foreign exchange rates were released (see below). (cf. Group of Lisbon (1997) p.48).
For Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the FED, the development of globalisation of capital markets is a result of technization and availability of information at any time and place (cf. Greenspan p.243 ff.). That means information is an important parameter concerning sweeping decisions. This does apply especially for economic decisions. On capital markets different decisions have to be made. And they are the place where supply and demand coincide and match. But this commerce has to be controlled. Hereafter will be clarified why this is a difficult task.
In history were several attempts to regulate financial markets. After World War II was a conference in Bretton Woods were a new financial system of fixed foreign exchange rates was decided. John Maynard Keynes wanted to set more strict conditions for the financial market, in terms of an international clearing bank which should handle payment transactions. His imagination of a financial system was very different from the common system. Keynes believed that a notional unit of account (the “bancor”) and a national account for the different countries were the best way to lend each other money in times of crisis. The bancor should only be fiat money without a real value. The real currencies should be deposited by gold. This complicated system would enable a short dated supply with loans of fiat money between the different countries and prevent panic during an economic recession.
But finally he couldn’t prevail his beliefs. (cf. Flaschel (2009) p.34ff.). Some economists may think the system of Keynes could have prevented a global financial crisis as it is now because of a better way of regulation. But this very sophisticated question will not be considered here.
Finally the Bretton Woods system broke down in 1973 when the US-Dollar was pressurized by a rising oil prize. In consequence of that the foreign exchange rates were released and no longer coupled to a certain amount of gold (cf. Flaschel (2009) p.56). An interesting question is how capital markets are influenced and which institutions have the power to influence or even control them. What is sure is that especially companies and governments have an enormous influence on capital flows. They invest money and try to regulate the way markets work.
The influence of governments on capital markets can be described as donor of framework conditions. They govern economical conditions like corporate taxes, environmental regulations for companies, specific subsidies, minimum wages and economical restrictions. These regulation instruments are used to compensate different disparities. For example the European agriculture can’t withstand competition of emerging nations. To keep it alive the EU pumps subsidies into the agriculture and guaranties minimum prices. Without these grants the whole economic sector would collapse. Briefly worded this assembly of instruments can be pooled in the term commercial policy (cf. Khan (2004) p.11ff.). Capital markets can also be regulated by monetary policy. Central banks fulfill this task e.g. by changing the interest rate. (cf. Howells (1990) p.174f.). Hereby the economy can be controlled in a macroeconomic way. The regularities within the economical system aren’t influenced by monetary policy. So in this case monetary policy is dispensable. Another important aspect why governments use commercial policy is to protect their own economy. In this case they use several instruments to deter foreign companies from entering the national economy. These instruments can be minimum wages which are valid for every employee working in the affected country or tariffs for imported goods. In most cases these protectionist instruments are leading to a markup for importations or services what compensates their advantages.
Framework conditions set by governments are crucial for specific decisions of companies like locating a new factory or where they make up the balance. A company will probably choose a location which delivers the best premises. This means in fact the countries are courting the companies by economical means, because they want to gain taxes as well as provide and maintain jobs. As a consequence governments are losing ground. The happening process on capital markets is no longer controlled by politics. It’s steered by multicorporate enterprises targeting to maximize their earnings. This is a quite new factor in global economy.
Another group which influences capital markets is supranational institutions. Keith Griffin sees institutional weaknesses as a origin for economic problems of globalisation: “institutions of global governance were not designed to manage a closely integrated and rapidly expanding global economic system” (Griffin, K.(2003) p.805). Very important are especially the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the World Bank Group and the FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering). The FATF has the main tasks to combat the funding of terrorism and money laundering. Hence the FATF issues several recommendations for governments and also a list of countries which do not fulfill standards of preventing money laundering or finance of terrorism. Banks have to supervise financial transactions in correspondence with these countries. The World Bank Group is supposed to evolve its undeveloped members by loan origination and advice. Even if they can allocate financial means, both of the mentioned institutions are not provided with sufficient responsibilities to control capital markets. In distinction to these institutions a main target of the IMF is the stabilization of financial markets. Therefore a rate is entrusted to every member of the IMF which quotes the deposit and the drawdown of loans. The drawdown of loans is linked to special conditions so called structural adjustments. These structural adjustments can be the cutback of government expenditure, aiming lower inflation or the deregulation of the banking sector. So obtaining a loan is depending on economic framework conditions and concessions. The stabilization of financial markets shall be warranted by financial support in case of emergency, especially financial embarrassment (cf. Loheide (2008) p.35 et seq. p.353 et seq.).
Another result of globalisation on capital markets is the rising quantity of financial instruments. (cf. The Economist (2009) p.18). Besides classic instruments like shares and bonds or loans and receivables many different ways to invest money exist. Above all speculative instruments like swaps, forwards or commodity futures are gaining in importance. Also the number of possibilities to invest money has extended. These instruments are often used by institutional investors as funds, especially hedge funds, to gain smallest spreads. Despite the narrow profit margins the consequent earnings are very high because of the large sum of money invested. As long as the rate of the underlying assets develops as expected the system works. But a recession can lead to a mood swing and in periods of crisis a panic can paralyze markets. Enormous sums of money are deprived of the affected region and a chain reaction can lead to a collapse of whole economies. (cf. White (1988) p.75ff.). Particularly the capital markets of the developing countries are suffering of the ‘globalisation of currency’. In Southeast Asia sundry capital markets collapsed in the 1990s while those of Europe did not. (cf. Meltzer (1998). So regulation is even more difficult for developing countries. This may be by reason of lacking experience, infrastructure and the dependence of developed countries.
It is still to be clarified whether globalised capital markets can be regulated: “Since the authority of states is territorially bound, global markets can escape effective political regulation” (Held/McGrew (2006) Globalization). National laws are just restricted valid and suitable. This means if companies disagree with existing conditions of the market they leave country and open a new branch elsewhere. Multicorporate enterprises with different registered seats are not bound to national laws. And national governments have no option to compel them.
A supranational institution is required. Existing institutions haven’t fulfilled this task because they aren’t provided with appropriate responsibilities. In fact none of the mentioned institutions can guarantee stable capital markets. They have no responsibility to control innovative financial instruments and they are not in charge of financial transactions. Several institutions have different functions but there is no transparency. Even existing tasks are widely allocated. Another problem of the institutions is they do not control strictly. There are no limits for financial transactions.
It’s a utopia to think capital markets are adjusting themselves. Financial crisis has shown this won’t happen. Designing globalisation is task of politics. Regulation of politics has tried to alleviate. But a functioning worldwide instrument or institution is needed. To solve these problems and to achieve stabile markets a reform of institutions is necessary. But financial crisis has also shown that politics is not ready to accomplish important changes within the global economic system. Banks that are relevant for the system of free market economy are artificially maintained. And they operate like nothing happened.
Europe could play a decisive role in reconfiguration of international financial order. It would be the next logical step after entrenching the EU and a new currency. For Europe it is very important to have steady markets because the EU eastward enlargement will bring along several states without equal financial regulations. So this will be necessary for a future intact structure of the EU. In the past the USA did not make any efforts of regulation. So the United States will probably not be interested in adjustment of financial markets because there are acting the most aggressive financial actors. This will probably not change in session of Barack Obama, because of the distinct capitalism and the huge lobby of financial investors in the US. Finding a consensus between Europe and the USA seems nearly utopistic. A regulation would definitely encounter resistance. The grown business finance will not accept a massive regulation. But this must not stop politics from creating an institution.
The (eventually newly created) institution has to observe trading on capital markets. Especially institutional investors which are seated in liberal states like Luxembourg have to be controlled more strictly. Innovative financial instruments that played a part in contributing to the recent financial crisis should have to pass a detailed examination before obtaining permission. Without these variances the next crisis will be unstoppable.
- Flaschel, P. (2009) The Macrodynamics of Capitalism – Elements for a Synthesis of Marx, Keynes and Schumpeter
- Gowland, D. (1990) The Regulation of Financial Markets in the 1990s
- Griffin, K. (2003) Economic Globalization and Institutions of Global Governance
- Group of Lisbon (1997) Frontiers of Competition – Globalisation of Economics and the Future of Mankind
- Held, D./McGrew, A. (2006) Globalization
- Howells, P./Bain, K. (1990) Financial Markets and Institutions
- Khan, H. (2004) Global Markets and Financial Crisis in Asia: Towards a Theory for the 21st Century
- Loheide, J. (2008) Financial Markets without Borders – Regional Policy and Financial centre in Globalization
- Meltzer, A. H. (1998) Asian Problems and the IMF, from: http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj17n3-10.html
- The Cato Journal, Vol. 17 No. 3 in 1998, Globalisation of Finance, from http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj17n3/cj17n3-1.pdf
- The Economist, Edition November 21st - 27th
- White, E. N. (1988) Crashes and Panics
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