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Faculty of Economics

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Palma, J. G.

How the full opening of the capital account to highly liquid financial markets led Latin America to two and a half cycles of ‘mania, panic and crash’


Abstract: Latin America has recently experienced three cycles of capital inflows, the first two ending in major financial crises. The first took place between 1973 and the 1982 ‘debt-crisis’. The second took place between the 1989 ‘Brady bonds’ agreement (and the beginning of the economic reforms and financial liberalisation that followed) and the Argentinian 2001/2002 crisis, and ended up with four major crises (as well as the 1997 one in East Asia) — Mexico (1994), Brazil (1999), and two in Argentina (1995 and 2001/2). Finally, the third inflow-cycle began in 2003 as soon as international financial markets felt reassured by the surprisingly neo-liberal orientation of President Lula’s government; this cycle intensified in 2004 with the beginning of a (purely speculative) commodity price-boom, and actually strengthened after a brief interlude following the 2008 global financial crash — and at the time of writing (mid-2011) this cycle is still unfolding, although already showing considerable signs of distress. The main aim of this paper is to analyse the financial crises resulting from this second cycle (both in LA and in East Asia) from the perspective of Keynesian/ Minskyian/ Kindlebergian financial economics. I will attempt to show that no matter how diversely these newly financially liberalised Developing Countries tried to deal with the absorption problem created by the subsequent surges of inflow (and they did follow different routes), they invariably ended up in a major crisis. As a result (and despite the insistence of mainstream analysis), these financial crises took place mostly due to factors that were intrinsic (or inherent) to the workings of over-liquid and under-regulated financial markets — and as such, they were both fully deserved and fairly predictable. Furthermore, these crises point not just to major market failures, but to a systemic market failure: evidence suggests that these crises were the spontaneous outcome of actions by utility-maximising agents, freely operating in friendly (‘light-touch’) regulated, over-liquid financial markets. That is, these crises are clear examples that financial markets can be driven by buyers who take little notice of underlying values — i.e., by investors who have incentives to interpret information in a biased fashion in a systematic way. Thus, ‘fat tails’ also occurred because under these circumstances there is a high likelihood of self-made disastrous events. In other words, markets are not always right — indeed, in the case of financial markets they can be seriously wrong as a whole. Also, as the recent collapse of ‘MF Global’ indicates, the capacity of ‘utility-maximising’ agents operating in (excessively) ‘friendly-regulated’ and over-liquid financial market to learn from previous mistakes seems rather limited.

Keywords: Causes of financial crisis, Latin America, East Asia, Financial liberalisation, Neo-liberal economic reforms, Systemic market failure, Keynes, Minsky, and Kindleberger

JEL Codes: D70 D81 F21 F32 F40 G15 G28 G38 H12 L51 N20 O16 O43

Author links: Jose Gabriel Palma  


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