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Can we trust industry-funded research on the Volcker rule?

at 10:42 AM ET, 01/19/2012

The House held a big hearing on the Volcker Rule yesterday — the regulation that’s meant to curb speculative, proprietary trading by financial firms for their own benefit, rather than their clients. One of the biggest concerns about the regulation is that it will reduce market liquidity and increase interest rates. However, MIT economist Simon Johnson believes that this argument has been significantly fueled by an Oliver Wyman report commissioned by industry lobbyists that made the rounds a few weeks ago. Here’s Johnson, who was also one of the witnesses at Wednesday’s House hearing:
( AP )

The report, “The Volcker Rule: Implications for the U.S. Corporate Bond Market,” was commissioned by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, or Sifma ... The current chair of Sifma is Jerry del Missier, a top executive at Barclays Capital. The board includes executives from Morgan Stanley, Société Générale, UBS, BNP Paribas, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan Chase, Credit Suisse, Royal Bank of Canada and Merrill Lynch.
All of these companies would be affected by the Volcker Rule, in the sense that they would have to give up some of their “proprietary trading” activities and perhaps be subject to other restrictions – as is noted by the Oliver Wyman report, which on Page 11 lists “the institutions that will be most affected by the Volcker Rule”; more than half of these institutions are on the Sifma board.

But at least the Oliver Wyman study disclosed that it was commissioned by SIFMA. The same hasn’t been the case for academic economic research. Gerald Epstein, an economist at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, found that only a tiny fraction of economists who’ve worked for private firms — sometimes serving on their boards or holding leadership posts — disclosed such affiliations in their public commentary and scholarly work. Partly in response, the American Economics Association agreed in its annual meeting this month to require authors to disclose the financial backers of their research and relevant industry affiliations. Here is a rundown of the new AEA ethics guidelines.

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