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The efficient-markets hypothesis has underpinned many of the financial industry's models for years. After the crash, what remains of it? In 1978 Michael Jensen, an American economist, boldly declared that "there is no other proposition in economics which has more solid empirical evidence supporting it than the efficient-markets hypothesis"(EMH). That was quite a claim. The theory's origins went back to the beginning of the century, but it had come to prominence only a decade or so before. Eugene Fama, of the University of Chicago, defined its essence: that the price of a financial asset reflects all available information that is relevant to its value. From that idea powerful conclusions were drawn, not least on Wall Street. If the EMH held, then markets would price financial assets broadly correctly. Deviations from equilibrium values could not last for long. If the price of a share, say, was too low, well-informed investors would buy it and make a killing. If it looked too dear, they could sell or short it and make money that way. It also followed that bubbles could not form-or, at any rate, could not last: some wise investor would spot them and pop them. And trying to beat the market was a fool's errand for almost everyone. If the information was out there, it was already in the price. On such ideas, and on the complex mathematics that described them, was founded the Wall Street profession of financial engineering. The engineers designed derivatives and securitisations, from simple interest-rate options to ever more intricate credit-default swaps and collateralised debt obligations. All the while, confident in the theoretical underpinnings of their inventions, they reassured any doubters that all this activity was not just making bankers rich. It was making the financial system safer and the economy healthier.
A bias has long existed among many policy makers with regard to the importance of financial systems among the poor nations of the world. Traditionally, it was thought that the poor did not need financial services because they could not save, had few viable investment opportunities, and were bad credit risks. Today, financial development is now becoming a focal point of reforms aimed at increasing economic development. In part, this is because of the strong empirical evidence that has come to light regarding the importance of finance to economic growth. This new focus on finance also reflects a gradual recognition that the assumption that the poor do not need financial services is extremely naive. The poor do save - but usually not in banks.. For instance, hoarding money or buying assets, such as livestock, are the traditional ways that the poor save, either because bank accounts are not available or because the poor are mistrustful of them. The problem with savings through these traditional means is that they leave wealth vulnerable to loss(theft, drought) and that they do not encourage investment by placing resources in the financial system. In addition, the poor need other financial services in addition to bank accounts: mortgage loans, insurance policies, and payment services such as transferring remittances between family members who work in richer countries and their family members back at home. Without efficient financial systems, the poor are left to deal with money lenders or pawnbrokers to obtain these services, who often provide low quality for exorbitant fees.
Central banks serve four important functions in modern financial systems. First, central banks help facilitate financial transactions by issuing new currency, clearing checks and other payments, providing short-term and seasonal loans to banks and monitoring payment systems. Second, central banks play a role in regulating the banking system, enforcing information disclosure requirements, setting loan and deposit creation standards, approving bank mergers and acquisitions, and monitoring bank activities. Third, central banks serve as a lender of last resort in order to enhance the stability of the banking system. By standing ready to provide loans to banks with short-term liquidity problems, central banks can prevent bank runs before they happen, usually without even providing a single loan. As the power of central banks have grown in the postwar era, bank runs have become much less frequent, to the point that they are now almost nonexistent in industrialized countries. For example, the last bank run and banking crisis in the U.S. was during the Great Depression before the reform and strengthening of the Federal Reserve and the creation of deposit insurance. Note, however, that the central bank's role as lender of last resort does not extend to poorly run banks; if a bank becomes insolvent, or its liabilities exceed its assets, then a central bank has the responsibility to let this bank fail. At that point, the appropriate government agencies that provide deposit insurance will bailout depositors and sell the bank's asset.