Financial History 25th Anniversary Special Edition (104, Fall 2012) - Page 29

Museum of American Finance Check for $642,600,000 issued to the Ford Foundation after investment bankers sold a large block of the Foundation’s stock in the Ford Motor Company to the public, 1956. World War II, Japan became the first nonwestern country to equal the developed western nations in virtually every respect. From Whence the Power of Finance? Despite the work of economists and economic historians, to most people the power of finance is hardly self-evident. Even people working on Wall Street can miss it. A foreign currency trader there once told me he could not understand why he was earning 10 times as much as his mother, a teacher, when in his view his mother was doing far more important work. What can explain the power of finance? A century ago, the noted Austrian (later American) economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883–1950) provided the best short analysis. In his Theory of Economic Development, Schumpeter identified the entrepreneur, the innovator of new products, markets, processes, sources of supply, etc., as a driving force in economic progress. Thanks to Schumpeter, we cherish entrepreneurship. But  —  and this is often forgotten in accounts of Schumpeter’s analysis — besides the entrepreneur, there is an equally important driving force, the banker. The banker is important because the entrepreneur cannot implement his innovative ideas without credit and capital, which is what the banker can supply. There are many would-be entrepreneurs, but far fewer good ones. A part of the banker’s job is to identify and back the good ones; one will recognize modern venture capital activities as an example of this. When bankers do their work successfully, good ideas get implemented, economies grow and the world has more goods and services. There are, of course, some losers in the development process. Those who do things the old way and fail to innovate are driven to the wall. Schumpeter called it “creative destruction.” Think, for example, of what Jeff Bezos and Amazon have done to traditional booksellers and other traditional retailers. More generally, Schumpeter’s concept of the banker can be regarded as the entire financial system, which is a vast network of governments financing themselves; banks lending and facilitating payments; financial markets making assets liquid and tradable; and a variety of financial and non-financial corporations that issue stocks and bonds, lend and borrow and provide most of our goods and services. This vast financial network, working properly, allocates scarce capital to its best uses. It also provides ways of managing risks by offering insurance, diversification and hedging. The network has what economists call network externalities. When they are positive, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and we experience prosperity and economic growth. When something goes wrong in a part of the network, the externalities can become negative. The result is a financial crisis in which financing is crippled or dries up, economic growth slows or stops and unemployment rises. Economic and business historians at NYU’s Stern School of Business, where I teach, have created what is in essence a more historically-attuned model of development than Schumpeter’s simple one of entrepreneur and banker. We call it “the diamond of sustainable growth,” which like a baseball diamond has four corners or bas \ˈ