This Time is Different – Eight Centuries of Financial Folly by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff

Reinhart, Carmen M. & Rogoff, Kenneth S. This Time is Different – Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey Copyright © 2009 by Princeton University Press.

This Time Is Different

Wow…Although this imposing volume penned by Reinhart (Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland) and Kenneth Rogoff (Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Economics at Harvard) appears written solely for trained academics — nothing could be further from the truth.

This is an incredible study that is digestible fare for a wide audience who may desire to have a better understanding of the history of financial crises.

Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:

The instruments of financial gain and loss have varied over the ages, as have the types of institutions that have expanded mightily only to fail massively. But financial crises follow a rhythm of boom  and bust through the ages. Countries, institutions, and financial instruments may change across time, but human nature does not. P. xxvii – emphasis is mine.

Economic theory tells us that it is precisely the fickle nature of confidence, including its dependence on the public’s expectation of future events, that makes it so difficult to predict the timing of debt crises. High debt levels lead, in many mathematical economics models, to “multiple equilibria” in which the debt level might be sustained –or might not be. Economists do not have a terribly good idea of what kinds of events shift confidence and of how to concretely assess confidence vulnerability. What one does see, again and again, in the history of financial crises is that when an accident is waiting to happen, it eventually does. When countries become too deeply indebted, they are headed for trouble. When debt-fueled asset price explosions seem too good to be true, they probably are. But the exact timing can be very difficult to guess, and a crisis that seems imminent can sometimes take years to ignite. Such was certainly the case of the United States in the late 2000s. As we show in chapter 1,  all the red lights were blinking in the run-up to the crisis. But until the “accident,” many financial leaders in the United States-and indeed, many academics-were still arguing that “this time is different.” p.xlii & xliii – emphasis is  mine.

Technology has changed, the height of humans  has changed and fashions have changed. Yet the ability of governments and investors to delude themselves, giving rise to periodic bouts of euphoria that usually end in tears, seems to have remained a constant. P. 292. – emphasis is mine.

But highly leveraged economies, particularly those in which continual rollover of short-term debt is sustained only by confidence in relatively illiquid underlying assets, seldom survive forever, particularly if leverage continues to grow unchecked. This time may seem different, but all too often a deeper look shows it is not. Encouragingly, history does point to warning signs that policy makers can look at to assess risk-if only they do not become too drunk with their credit bubble-fueled success and say, as their predecessors have for centuries, “This time is different.” p. 292 – emphasis is mine.

A reservoir of insightful research, data and poignant observations. A volume that belongs in your library as a reference book that one will likely return to on many occasions for further illumination.


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