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Is Global Financial Reform Possible?

To commemorate its founding 25 years ago, PS will be republishing over the coming months a selection of commentaries written since 1994. In the following commentary, Paul Volcker called for an international consensus on changes to the financial sector and the world’s monetary system.

HONG KONG – Nowadays there is ample evidence that financial systems, whether in Asia in the 1990s or a decade later in the United States and Europe, are vulnerable to breakdowns. The cost in interrupted growth and unemployment has been intolerably large.

But, in the absence of international consensus on some key points, reform will be greatly weakened, if not aborted. The freedom of money, financial markets, and people to move – and thus to escape regulation and taxation – might be an acceptable, even constructive, brake on excessive official intervention, but not if a deregulatory race to the bottom prevents adoption of needed ethical and prudential standards.

Perhaps most important is a coherent, consistent approach to dealing with the imminent failure of “systemically important” institutions. Taxpayers and governments alike are tired of bailing out creditors for fear of the destructive contagious effects of failure – even as bailouts encourage excessive risk-taking.

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