Are financial crises unpredictable or can we put simple financial indicators in place that will warn us before it is too late? An early detection system for financial danger that accurately pinpoints the type of danger we are facing could help prevent the next crisis. See the following post by Mark Thoma for more on this topic.
David Levine "aggressively argues":
our models don't just fail to predict the timing of financial crises - they say that we cannot.
The San Francisco Fed's Bharat Trehan says:
simple indicators based on asset market developments can provide early warnings about potentially dangerous financial imbalances. ... [W]e have taken two simple indicators off the shelf and shown that both would have signaled impending trouble prior to the current crisis. That makes it harder to argue that financial crises are, by their nature, unpredictable. And it shows that such simple indicators can be useful ... as signals of rising levels of risk in the economy.
See here. Or here.
We ought to be able to say, at the very least, something like:
If you keep eating that junky credit instead of a healthier financial diet, your monetary circulatory system is likely to have severe problems at some point in the future.
Many people had a sense things were out of balance and that at some point it would cause us problems, but the indicators most people looked at pointed to a diagnosis involving exchange rate movements and an international unwinding. The discussion centered on issues such as whether we would have a hard or a soft landing as this process unfolded, there was little discussion of the type of crisis that actually occurred.
So we need two things. First, we need indicators such as those identified in the SF Fed article that can tell us when danger is building in the financial sector.
But that is not enough. Though many people had a sense from the indicators they looked at that things were out of balance, the indicators pointed to international financial issues rather than the true problem, and hence most of the analysis and policy discussions were devoted to guarding against problems related to international financial flows.
Thus, the second thing we have a need for is a set of indicators that do a better job of telling us where the problems are likely to occur. That is where we made the biggest mistake, misdiagnosing the type of crisis that was coming. Having indicators that can do a better job of identifying the type of financial crisis we are facing will allow us to design and implement effective policy responses rather than wasting time analyzing and planning for the wrong type of crisis.
This post has been republished from Mark Thoma's blog, Economist's View.