Youssef Cassis

 

On his book Crises and Opportunities: The Shaping of Modern Finance

Cover Interview of August 08, 2011

In a nutshell

As the world’s political and economic leaders struggle with the aftermath of the financial debacle of 2008, this book asks: Have financial crises presented opportunities to rebuild the financial systems?

Given the violence of the shock, some fundamental questions have been raised about the working of the financial sector.  Have banks become “too big to fail”?  Should commercial banking be separated from investment banking?  Have bonuses been responsible for the excesses leading to the crash?  Should financial institutions be more tightly regulated?  Will the financial sector shrink significantly in the foreseeable future?  Will Wall Street and the City of London retain their world leadership or will they be upstaged by financial centers in Asia or the Middle East?

This book is an attempt to revisit the history of financial crises in the light of these very contemporary questions.  Put another way: Financial crises have periodically undermined the financial world; have they also contributed to its reshaping?

Looking back at the global financial crises that have broken out since the late nineteenth century can help us understand what is happening today—the speed at which reforms are proceeding, the extent and limits of what is being achieved.

Crises and Opportunities examines five main issues.  First, the banks themselves: Have big banks actually ever been allowed to fail?  Second is governance, in particular bankers’ responsibility in times of crises.  Third is regulation, its links with innovation, and the demand for deregulation and re-regulation.  Fourth is international cooperation: the instinct of preservation which brings governments together when panic strikes, but the harder collective effort at improving the existing international financial architecture. Fifth is balance of power in international finance, reflected in no small way by the hierarchy of international financial centers.

History shows that many factors have contributed to the shaping of modern finance.  Financial crises have been only one of them—and not necessarily the forces for change that we would like them to be in the wake of the debacle of 2008.