Category Archives: Stewardship of Finance

Stewardship of Finance Update

Eight of the fifteen lectures have by now been given in the first year of the “Stewardship of Finance” chair at the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). There have been also two (most lively) guest panels, and four guest talks by distinguished visitors: Luc Coene, Governor of the Belgian central bank, Tomas Sedlacek (economist-philosopher, author of “Economics of Good and Evil”), Emmanuel Todd (demographer and historian) and Michel Prada (former head of the French regulator of financial markets). Both the lectures and panels are available on video form for all to see, on the VUB site and on my French-speaking and English-speaking blogs.

There is more to come of course: Jacques Attali will be our guest in March, plus another event whereof it is premature to say more but, as you will then realize, will show how much interest the chair is actually eliciting in the community. In the past week indeed, the Belgian daily L’Écho has devoted four pages to the chair, I was on the national French-speaking radio on Friday and on the Controverse programme of RTL.be on Sunday. Next Sunday, I will be on Retours du dimanche on France Culture.

This all might be buzz of no consequence, but the true reward is the way the main message of the chair is making progess in the minds: that finance should be at the service of the community, instead of being a rogue predator claiming extraterritoriality from ethics, a permanent threat on the rampage, from which the ordinary citizen should shelter.

There is still a long way to go of course but progress is fortunately constant. I’ll keep you posted!

CHAIR “STEWARDSHIP OF FINANCE” : EMMANUEL TODD on December 5th, MICHEL PRADA on December 19th, at the VUB

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is honored to invite you to attend the last two invited talks of this year.

Wednesday 5th of December – Emmanuel Todd:  Les élites européennes: incompétence historique et anthropologique? This talk will be held in French

Emmanuel Todd is a French historian, sociologist and political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED), in Paris.

Entrance is free but please register here for the talk.

Wednesday 19th of December – Michel Prada:  Crise financière et régulation: progrès et problèmes. This talk will be held in French

Michel Prada is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the IFRS Foundation/Président du Conseil de Normalisation des Comptes Publics (France) and Ancien Président de l’Autorité des Marchés Financiers (France).

Entrance is free but please register here for the talk.

Both invited talks are part of the Academic Chair ‘Stewardship of Finance’ founded by Vrije Universiteit Brussel and sponsored by six major insurance companies. ‘The current financial crisis has shown that a moral reflection is most certainly necessary.’ The chairman of this new chair is Professor of economic and financial law, Michel Flamée. The holder of the chair is famous Belgian anthropologist, Paul Jorion.

19:30 Introduction by Paul Jorion
19:40 Invited talk
20:30 Q&A
21:00 Concluding remarks

Location:  VUB, Promotion Hall, Building D, 2nd Floor, Campus Etterbeek, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels.

For more information on the Academic Chair, please see here
 

VUB, “Stewardship of Finance” Chair, panel discussion, 25th October 2012

The panel discussion topic was the same as that of the lecture of the day by myself: “Law, Ethics and the business world”. The participants from left to right were: Geert Noels (Econopolis), Ivan Van de Cloot (Itinera), Marc Beaujean (P&V) and Benoît Frydman (ULB). The moderator was Steven Rombaut (vrt).

Unfortunately due to the camera angle, Benoît Frydman was hardly visible when he spoke and me… not at all!

VUB, “Stewardship of Finance” Chair, inaugural lecture : Why Stewardship of Finance?, October 4 2012

The inaugural lecture of the chair “Stewardship of Finance”, delivered by me at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on the 4th of October 2012.

Why Stewardship of Finance?

When in the Autumn of 2011 I was first approached by Michel Flamée on behalf of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel about the chair I’m privileged to speak from today, the question of how it would ultimately be called was still undecided. The Flemish phrase used in the early discussions was “ethisch financieren”: financing in an ethical manner.

“Ethical finance”, “responsible finance”, “sustainable finance”, so many different phrases have been used to name chairs with similar intent as this one. The difficulty I see however with such ways of speaking is that they have been used in the past sometimes as mere euphemisms when referring to investors in search of a good conscience in the choice of an investment out of a mere concern for political correctness.

Continue reading VUB, “Stewardship of Finance” Chair, inaugural lecture : Why Stewardship of Finance?, October 4 2012

PRESS RELEASE : VUB chair promotes the stewardship of finance

Brussels, Wednesday, September 12, 2012

PRESS RELEASE

VUB chair promotes the stewardship of finance

‘Stewardship of Finance’ is the name of a new chair founded by Vrije Universiteit Brussel and sponsored by six major insurance companies. The chair is meant to promote the notion of a stewardship of finance. VUB Rector Paul De Knop believes it is crucial that the financial sector is examined from an ethical perspective. ‘The current financial crisis has shown that a moral reflection is most certainly necessary.’ The famous Belgian anthropologist, Paul Jorion will give the first of 15 guest lectures on the theme in the academic year 2012-2013.

The Stewardship of Finance chair will run for five years, and will focus on research as well as on education. For this chair Vrije Universiteit Brussel received the financial support of six insurance companies which strive to develop their activities in a sustainable and responsible manner. The chair starts on Thursday 4 October 2012. Doctorandi will examine the theme of ethical financial services from the perspective of various scientific disciplines including economics, law, philosophy, mathematics and actuarial science. The research has to give rise to new insights about the ethics and morals of financial activities, more specifically of insurance and financial management.

The chair is founded on two pillars: research and education. Students from various disciplines will learn to think about the stewardship of finance during a series of lectures; knowledge which they will be able to subsequently implement once they start working in the financial sector themselves. ULB professors will also participate in the project and will encourage their students to attend.

Paul Jorion

The chair has called on the services of Paul Jorion for the lectures. A renowned social anthropologist, Jorion has worked in the European and American financial industry for several years. He writes columns, among others, for the economic supplement of the authoritative newspaper, Le Monde. His recent book, Le Capitalisme à l’Agonie also received a lot of attention worldwide. Jorion has taught at the universities of Brussels, Cambridge and Paris VIII among others. During the academic year 2012-2013 he will give 60 hours of guest lectures. The lectures will take place at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, on Thursdays at 3 p.m. In the course of the academic year 2012-2013 the lecture will be followed by a round-table, on five occasions, with Belgian and international panel members. Several other conferences will also take place in the margin of the chair.

Chairman

The chairman of this chair is Professor of economic and financial law, Michel Flamée, who also serves as a special representative for insurance supervision and is an auditor with the National Bank of Belgium. Professor Koen Byttebier of the Faculty of Law and Criminology will be in charge of coordinating with the partners and faculties involved. The project will also benefit from an active contribution by ULB.

Insurance companies

The six insurance companies which have agreed to support the chair are AG Insurance, Allianz, Baloise Insurance, Belfius Insurance, Ethias and P&V Groep.

On Thursday 4 October 2012 at 3 p.m. Paul Jorion will give his inaugural lecture for the chair. The title of the lecture is: “Why Stewardship of Finance?” This lecture will take place on campus Etterbeek of Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Aula Q. (About this location:
http://www.vub.ac.be/infoover/campussen) Journalists and other people who are interested to attend are more than welcome.

Information about the content of the lectures

Paul Jorion, 0033 6 27 25 63 35, pauljorion@gmail.com

Information about the chair

Koen Byttebier, 0477871061, koen.byttebier@vub.ac.be

 

Press relations Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Sicco Wittermans, phone 02-629 21 37 or 0473-96 41 37
Sicco.wittermans@vub.ac.be

PERSBERICHT : VUB-leerstoel bevordert ethische financiële dienstverlening

Brussel, woensdag 12 september 2012

VUB-leerstoel bevordert ethische financiële dienstverlening

 

Stewardship of Finance, dat is de naam van een nieuwe leerstoel die de Vrije Universiteit Brussel en zes grote verzekeringsmaatschappijen hebben opgericht. De leerstoel moet ethische financiële dienstverlening bevorderen.VUB-rector Paul De Knop vindt het uitermate belangrijk dat de financiële sector vanuit een ethisch perspectief onder de loep wordt genomen‘De huidige financiële crisis toont aan dat morele reflectie meer dan noodzakelijk is.’ De bekende Belgische antropoloog Paul Jorion start in oktober de 15 gastcolleges die in het academiejaar 2012-2013 over het thema worden gedoceerd.

 

De leerstoel Stewardship of Finance loopt vijf jaar en is zowel een onderzoeks- als een onderwijsleerstoel. Voor de leerstoel heeft de Vrije Universiteit Brussel de financiële steun gekregen van zes verzekeringsmaatschappijen die ernaar streven om hun activiteiten op een duurzame en een verantwoorde manier te ontplooien. De leerstoel gaat donderdag 4 oktober van start en heeft in eerste instantie een looptijd van vijf academiejaren. Doctorandi zullen de thematiek van ethische financiële dienstverleningonderzoeken vanuit diverse wetenschappelijke disciplines zoals economie, rechten, filosofie, wiskunde en actuariaat. Het onderzoek moet tot nieuwe inzichten leiden over de ethiek en moraal van financiële activiteiten, in het bijzonder van verzekeringen en financieel beheer.

 

De leerstoel heeft twee pijlers: onderzoek en onderwijs. Via een reeks colleges leren studenten uit verschillende disciplines nadenken over stewardship of finance; kennis die ze later kunnen gebruiken als ze zelf in de financiële sector aan de slag gaan. Ook hoogleraren van de ULB participeren in het project en zullen hun studenten aansporen tot deelname aan de cursussen.

 

Paul Jorion

Voor de colleges doet de leerstoel een beroep op Paul Jorion. De bekende sociale antropoloog Paul Jorion heeft jarenlang in de Amerikaanse financiële sector gewerkt. Hij woont nu in Frankrijk en schrijft o.m. columns voor de economiebijlage van de gezaghebbende krant Le Monde. Ook zijn recente boek Le Capitalisme à l’Agonie kreeg wereldwijd veel aandacht. Jorion heeft onder meer gedoceerd aan universiteiten van Brussel, Cambridge en Paris VIII. Tijdens het academiejaar 2012-2013 zal hij zestig uurgastcolleges geven. De lessen vinden telkens plaats aan de Vrije Universiteit Brussel, op donderdag om 15 uur. In de loop van het academiejaar 2012-2013 vindt er vijf keeraansluitend een ronde tafel plaats, met Belgische en internationale panelleden. Naar aanleiding van de leerstoel zullen ook tal van andere conferenties plaatsvinden.

 

Voorzitter

De voorzitter van de leerstoel is professor in economisch en financieel recht Michel Flamée, die tevens actief is als bijzonder mandataris voor verzekeringstoezicht enauditeur bij de Nationale Bank van België. Prof. Koen Byttebier van de faculteit Recht en Criminologie staat in voor de algemene coördinatie met alle betrokken partners en faculteiten. Het project mag zich tevens verheugen in een actieve bijdrage van de ULB.

 

Verzekeraars

De zes verzekeringsmaatschappijen die de leerstoel ondersteunen zijn AG Insurance, Allianz, Baloise Insurance, Belfius Insurance, Ethias en P&V Groep.

Paul Jorion geeft op donderdag 4 oktober om 15 uur zijn inaugurale les voor de leerstoel. De wetenschapper gaat het dan hebben over “Why Stewardship of Finance?” Deze lezing vindt plaats op de campus Etterbeek van de Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Aula Q. (Over deze lokatie:http://www.vub.ac.be/infoover/campussen) Journalisten en anderegeïnteresseerden zijn van harte welkom.

 

Inhoudelijke informatie

Paul Jorion, 0033 6 27 25 63 35pauljorion@gmail.com

 

Informatie over leerstoel

Koen Byttebier, 0477871061koen.byttebier@vub.ac.be

 

 

   

Persrelaties Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Sicco Wittermans, tel. 02-629 21 37 of 0473-96 41 37

Sicco.wittermans@vub.ac.be

 


READING LIST FOR THE “STEWARDSHIP OF FINANCE” COURSE AT VUB, STARTING OCTOBER 4th

1.    Historians of finance

Martin Meyer:

The Bankers, New York: Weybright & Talley, 1974
Markets, New York: Norton, 1988

 

Peter L. Bernstein:

Capital Ideas, New York: Free Press, 1992
Against the Gods. The Remarkable Story of Risk, Hoboken: John Wiley  & Sons, 1996

 

Steve Fraser:

Every Man a Speculator. A History of Wall Street in American Life, New York: Harper Collins, 2005
 

Continue reading READING LIST FOR THE “STEWARDSHIP OF FINANCE” COURSE AT VUB, STARTING OCTOBER 4th

THE GOLDMAN SACHS AFFAIR: CORRUPTED JUSTICE, OR AN UNTOUCHABLE FINANCIAL SECTOR?

Translated from the French by Tim Gupwell.

The first hypothesis which comes to mind with regard to the American Justice Department’s decision on Friday not to prosecute the bank Goldman Sachs for its alleged role in the Subprime crisis, is of course of corruption at the very heart of the Department. The facts are well-established and eminently reprehensible: exploiting the trust of their best clients to sell them junk products; organizing bets and participating actively in these bets on complex securities which had been manipulated to ensure they were of the worst possible quality.

Which begs the next question: “is it possible that it actually had nothing to do with corruption?” And the answer to this is in fact “yes”. Other explanations are possible and even the totally disgusted Senator Carl Levin himself, who headed the American Senate’s enquiry committee, conceded this since he said that the Justice Department’s decision “shows  either weak laws or weak enforcement”.

Evoking “weak enforcement” is tantamount to maintaining that the Department of Justice is complicit. So is this an accusation of corruption on the part of Levin? Not necessarily. It could simply be the result of Goldman Sachs having far more clout than the Justice Department. In the past, I have detailed a number of incidents proving that the balance of power between transnational firms (and sometimes even national ones) and States, is loaded firmly in favour of the former in the vast majority of cases.

Talking of ‘weak laws’, is the equivalent of saying, using the terms I employed previously that “exploiting the trust of their best clients to sell them junk products; organizing bets and participating actively in these bets on complex securities which had been manipulated to ensure they were of the worst possible quality”, does not come under the remit of American law. What can be more worrying than that? Let’s look at that in more detail.

First of all, “sales of junk financial products to the firm’s best clients”. Milton Friedman, Professor of Economics at Chicago University for nearly thirty years, winner of the Nobel Prize for economics in 1976, successfully spread the idea that a firm worked uniquely for its shareholders; not for its clients, nor for its employees. Friedman is considered the second most eminent economist of the 20th Century (after John Maynard Keynes); one of his books alone has sold a million copies. Judging from this perspective, the sale of junk products is justified if it increases profits.

Next, “making rigged bets on the collapse of a financial sector”. During his hearing before the American Senate Committee chaired by Carl Levin, in April 2010, Lloyd Blankfein, Chief Executive Officer of Goldman Sachs, maintained that the idea that financial bets are reprehensible did not make sense to him since a bet is a kind of “risk transfer”. In one of my previous articles dedicated to this hearing (in French) I thanked Senator McKaskill “for having reminded the boss of Goldman Sachs of the difference between an insurance policy and a bet. Blankfein had replied that for the market maker there was no difference, to which she replied that for the average American, that’s probably where the problem lies.” The error is of course a major one, as a bet creates out of nowhere a risk which had not previously existed. Nonetheless, I am sure that we would easily find half a dozen economists, holding some of the most prestigious economic chairs, to confirm without any hesitation Blankfein’s remarks that bets are just ‘risk transfers’ like any others.

But quite apart from the watering down of the laws under the influence of economists, there are other possible explanations for the Justice Department’s decision on Friday not to prosecute Goldman Sachs, and the principal one is that of the State: the operations of the firm Goldman Sachs may be so intertwined with the very functioning of the American state that any genuine challenge is impossible to envisage.

Over the years, I have reported here the theories of various traders, also bloggers or involved with the media in some way, who maintain that Goldman Sachs is the right arm of American State manipulation aiming to create a “bullish sentiment” on the stock markets, or, in other words, the tool of the ‘Plunge Protection Team’, according to the nickname of the ‘Working Group on Financial Markets’, set up by the Secretary of the Treasury, the President of the Fed, the President of the Securities and Exchange Commission (the regulator of the stock market) and the President of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (regulator of the futures and options market). There is no actual proof of these allegations; curious souls can however regularly consult the site Nanex, a firm which collects information on financial transactions.

Does this amount to saying that there is only one choice: that either the American Justice Department has been in one way or another corrupt in this affair (for financial reasons or for state ones); or that the financial sector as a whole is untouchable? No, because as the recent interventions from the American regulatory authorities against the British banks Barclays and Standard Chartered prove, there are indeed some financial establishments in the firing line and in serious trouble. The British will no doubt feel slightly bitter that these kinds of double-standards exist, and there is no doubt that the next compromising revelations will come from that direction in the form of reprisals. Unless of course, as the independent trader Alessio Rastani maintains, Goldman Sachs really does rule the world, in which case nothing will happen. This is moreover not the kind of hypothesis that can be easily dismissed.

THE FOUR YEARS NEEDED TO CREATE A SCANDAL

Translated from the French by Tim Gupwell

Over recent years you may have seen me carrying out extremely complex complications such as this: “it needed four years – between 1929 and 1933 – before any genuine measures were taken at the time of the Great Depression!” And it was this kind of calculation which led to my disenchanted musings– since nothing was being done – when I wondered on the 28th June whether I should put an end to the blog.

And then, and in fact it was on this very same day, the second episode of the LIBOR affair broke, an affair which has since grown to such an extent that it is difficult to say where it will end, the only sure thing being that Barclays, which is only one of the 16 banks involved and certainly one of the least guilty parties, finds itself in the firing line today, and that up to now we have only had caught a glimpse of the highly probable involvement of the regulators and governing class in the affair.

The first episode, namely the events themselves, took place in 2008; the second, which is the realization, is taking place now, in other words four years later. Exactly the time needed, as I mentioned, during the Great Depression.

What can explain this sort of delayed reaction? Doubtless the time needed for an administrative enquiry to pronounce justice, but there is something else. And this other thing is the object of my article in Le Monde-Économie which will appear shortly: it is a climate operating like a reverberation chamber, ensuring that what had been merely an anomaly in 2008 (see my article in French un taux LIBOR à 3 mois trop bas de 17 points de base*) becomes in the eyes of public opinion in 2012, a scandal.

How is such a climate created? By the coming together of a number of different developments – for which four years would be required before a critical mass was finally attained – constituted (more precisely) in this particular case, in Great Britain, by the Rupert  Murdoch affair, which revealed an incestuous collusion between business leaders and governments, scorning all principles, and revealing (to reemploy the terms used in my forthcoming article) “an arrogant managing class, which does not trouble itself with rules, and organizes its affairs as it sees fit, whilst maintaining a bare minimum of appearances.”

This is how – in the case of one particular country – a climate is created which means that after four years, what had initially appeared to be a fairly banal collection of simple facts saw itself transformed into an absolute disgrace.

* The 3 month LIBOR rate 17 basis points too low