Nobel Prize Winning Economist: Core Problem Is Too Much Centralization … In Both Government AND the Private Sector

Leading Economist: Centralization Is the Problem

Nobel prize winning economist Ed Prescott has previously said that we have to break up the big banks.

Prescott notes in a new interview that centralization – of either government or banking – is a core problem:

[Question] Brussels is using this crisis to grab more powers from governments.  How does that make things even worse?

[Prescott] Dangerous centralization.

China … From 1,000 to 1,300[A.D.] was the richest country, the most advanced. They had done much better than Europe, and they were by far the leader.

But then – under the Ming Dynasty – they got centralized, and they started preserving the status quo. The provinces lost their power.

[The Ming Dynasty got rid of the "press".]

And technological regression set in there.  People from the other end of the Euro-Asia land mass came and humbled that great empire.

[Question] Why is the U.S. economy doomed to fail and what will happen?

[Prescott] They haven’t gotten rid of the too big to fail problem.

They get real big … people know who led to these financial institutes, know that they will be bailed out, will expect it, and therefore the institutes can borrow at a lower rate. So they gamble…

Government likes to get favors out to certain people and then big contributions ….

Dr. Prescott is right …

Numerous studies show that big banks are less efficient than smaller banks.

The New York Times notes:

The economics suggest that big banks are less efficient at credit creation than smaller ones.  And there is no evidence that the simpler financial system we had from the 1940s through the 1970s restrained growth. In fact, for all its innovation, the financial industry of today is less efficient than it was in the age of the railway, according to research by Thomas Philippon at New York University. That is, it charges the rest of society more for financial intermediation than it did 130 years ago.

And see this, this and this.

Indeed, it is well known that – while larger organizations can be more efficient than small ones – when any organization gets too big, “diseconomies of scale” may make them less efficient (and see this).

Below, we’ll discuss some of the reasons this is true. But an analogy will easily make the point.

Giraffes have huge hearts, because they have to pump the blood all the way up to their heads.

Similarly, humans can’t be 100 feet tall and weigh 10,000 pounds.  Our bodies would be too inefficient to survive.

Why Centralization Can Be Bad

As Prescott notes, organizations which become too big tend to spend an inordinate amount of time in preserving the status quo, and thus have less room to innovate.  Inertia often takes over, and the organizations lose their vitality and success. This is especially true since larger organizations are more subject to bureaucratic insularity, which causes stagnation.

Organizations in the public or private sector which become too big also spend huge amounts of time, money and energy on communications between their various parts:

They also spend more time and money duplicating efforts,  political in-fighting, and other wasted efforts:

Moreover, the larger an organization, the more centralization and less diversity.   True, numerous business books have touted more of a decentralized “team” attitude in the last decade or so. But many large organizations are still very hierarchical, allowing little diversity of viewpoint.  Groupthink also commonly occurs.

More importantly, when you have a couple of giant organizations in a given market, it means that there are less competitors.  In the banking space, for example, we have extensively documented that breaking up the giant banks would allow small banks to thrive.

So – by definition – organizations that are too big decrease diversity in competition.

And the less diversity, the more vulnerable we become to “black swans”:

It has been accepted science for decades that when all the farmers in a certain region grow the same strain of the same crop – called “monoculture” – the crops become much more susceptible.


Because any bug (insect or germ) which happens to like that particular strain could take out the whole crop on pretty much all of the region’s farms.

For example, one type of grasshopper – called “differential grasshoppers” – loves corn. If everyone grows the same strain of corn in a town in the midwest, and differential grasshoppers are anywhere nearby, they may come and wipe out the entire town’s crops (that’s why monoculture crops require such high levels of pesticides).

On the other hand, if farmers grow a lot of different types of crops (“polyculture”) , then a pest might get some crops, but the rest will survive.

I believe that the same principle applies to our financial system.

If power and deposits are concentrated in a handful of mega-banks, problems with those banks could bring down the whole system.


Moreover, the mega-banks are huge holders of derivatives, including credit default swaps. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and Morgan Stanley together hold 80% of the country’s derivatives risk, and 96% of the exposure to credit derivatives.

Even though JP, B of A, Goldman and Citi are separate corporations, they are so interlinked and intertwined through their derivatives holdings that an attack by a “pest” which swarmed in on their derivatives could take down this “monoculture” of overly-leveraged, securitized, derivatives-heavy banking.


Our current banking monoculture threatens not only the biggest banks, but the entire financial system. Pesticides become less effective as pests develop resistance – and, as a byproduct, we poison friendly critters. Likewise, the giants “creatively” work their way around regulations so that the regulations are no longer effective (or at least not enforced, and regulatory capture is widespread. And too much regulation stifles productivity,as an unintended byproduct.

Having power and deposits spread out among more, smaller banks would greatly increase the stability of the financial system. And having more power and deposits in banks using a wider variety of business models (e.g. among banks that aren’t heavily invested in derivatives and securitized assets) will create a banking “polyculture” which will lead to a much more stable financial system.

In other words, if we decentralize power and deposits and increase the variety of banking models, we will have a healthier financial system, we won’t have such an urgent need to try to micromanage every aspect of the banking system through regulation,and the regulations we do have will be more effective.

By the way, I would argue that that is one of the reasons why Glass-Steagall was so important: it enforced diversity – depository institutions on the one hand, and investment banks on the other. When Glass-Steagall was revoked and the giants started doing both types of banking, it was like a single crop cannibalizing another crop and becoming a new super-organism. Instead of having diversity, you’ve now got a monoculture of the new super-crop, susceptible to being wiped out by a pest.

The kinds of things which threaten depository institutions are not necessarily the same type of things which threaten investment banks, hedge funds, etc.

(Remember that things are less diversified and more centralized than they appear. And see this.)

This is true in reporting, trading, and many  other areas.

Decentralization Will Help Many of Our Problems

The Founding Fathers enshrined separation of powers as the very basis of our government, as a way to ensure that centralization would not lead to tyranny. (The Iroquois actually appear to have developed the idea of separation of powers and inspired the Founding Fathers. See this and this.)

Everything has becoming too centralized.

We’ve previously noted that liberals and conservatives tend to dislike different portions of the malignant, symbiotic relationship between big government and big corporations:

Conservatives tend to view big government with suspicion, and think that government should be held accountable and reined in.

Liberals tend to view big corporations with suspicion, and think that they should be held accountable and reined in.

This post shows that both are right.

We’ve gone too far in centralizing governments, the financial sector and other organizations.  We have overshot the mark … and gone from efficiencies to inefficiencies of scale.

The answer is more decentralization.

For example:

  • Decentralization – not some more bigger,  more centralized solution – is the key to our energy problems

It is time to take power away from those that are hurting all of us by putting our time, money and energy into smaller, more local organizations.

This entry was posted in Business / Economics, Energy / Environment, General, Politics / World News. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Rehmat

    The problem is not the central bank – but the Capitalism itsel.

    Capitalism is so out of control it’s no longer possible to bring it under control. Blood transfusions cannot revive a dead body, nor can infusions of make believe money reanimate a dead system. As Capitalist system is dying – world leaders have to fashion a new monetary system which could serve humanity and respect nature, rather than simply use and abuse them to generate wealth for a minority of parasite crooks.

    Islamic law (Shari’ah) regulates both methods by which money may be earned and also the ways it may be spent. Acquisition of wealth is permissible only in ways which are just to all parties concerned; exploitation, arbitrary taxation, and individual profit resulting in social harm is not permissible in Islamic law. This puts numerous restrictions on business practices utilized to make profits.

    • wes

      It isn’t Capitalism that is failing. It is a combination of crony capitalism and our fiat currency. Our money is just debt.

  • Marc Schlee





  • john

    We finally have a nobel prize winner that is timely.

    Listen to this man.

    Think about it. He´s right in all the things he said here.

  • niphtrique

    Centralisation is not only a problem in the banking system. The Capitalist economy based on usury favours centralisation. A proposal for an alternative should start with understanding the way markets behave. Most economists think that local currencies are less efficient and will remain marginal at best. Less efficient systems are destroyed by the laws of competition. Local communities are not able to compete with the global marketplace.

    It does not have to be that way. One outstanding example demonstrates this. During the Great Depression the Austrian town of Wörgl introduced scrip money. The faster circulation of scrip within the local economy increased trade and created extra employment. The success was copied by neighbouring villages and a town. Soon two hundred Austrian townships were interested in adopting the idea. Then the central bank banned scrip money.

    If scrip money had not been banned at that time, the success story would have spread and everybody would use scrip money today. It only takes one community like Wörgl to make it happen now. Copying the Wörgl experiment can unleash a power that will finish off the current financial system. Less efficient systems will be destroyed by the laws of competition. The global marketplace will not be able to compete with the local communities.

    In the future there will be no more economic crises. There will be sufficient employment for everyone. The economy will become sustainable. Central governments and multinational corporations will crumble. The division of labour will be reversed. Jobs that do not contribute to the real economy will vanish. Once set in motion this development cannot be stopped. This may be just in time as the current globalised economic system is collapsing right in front of us.

    It is possible to make this happen. Here you can read how:

  • gozounlimited

    Here is some centralization for you …..

    geoengineered drought in 2012 …. WHY?

    For Monsanto of course …. and crazy global warming enthusiasts like the brown man with his global warming tax.

    The 2012 drought, “will be the acid test for drought-tolerant traits bred into hybrid seed corn during the past 15 years,” Elmore said. “We have increased stress tolerance in corn. That’s documented. We’ll find out this year how well corn tolerates drought stress.”
    read more:

    So NOW ….

    The tax payers pay for it …. 6 minutes ago … President Barack Obama is directing the Agriculture Department to authorize an additional $30 million to help crop and livestock producers in drought-stricken areas of the U.S. The spending does not require congressional approval, and the money has already been allocated to the department.
    read more:

    Not to mention of course higher food prices, and tax payer backed crop insurance ….

    You Peoples just got ZOOMED …. Who’s Zoomin’ Who ….. see here:

  • canobs

    Real problem, the privatized Fed, get back to the greenback and a Public central bank, at least at 50% apply the Tobin tax on trade transactions to end wild speculation, apply the social-credit system as explained years ago by economist CliffordHughDouglas, forbid fiscal heavens and hedge funds used by the warmonger banksters financing the NED-CIA. Three Presidents tried to go near these solutions, they were Assassinated.

    • gozounlimited

      Why millions of US citizens have to do it …. unite, return to sanity and create solutions … Obviously any ONE who steps out so boldly is at risk, but what can they do when millions of inspired, educated, resourceful people insist on it? ? We are going to learn more about the power of the UNITED States soon. “Fed” Up …. doesn’t even come close.

  • John B.

    For me, there are two types of centralization – good and bad. First one is the one that helps connect people´s needs and solves it by an efficient and universal approach. The idea is then spread and gains popularity. Centralization approach increases the number of possibilities and is able to maintain good reputation (one example for all is the company specialized on renting hybrid motor cars Car2Go). The communication canals work for the company not against it.

    The bad one is described in the article. The biggest centralization ever was probably in Soviet Union and Eastern Block in general. And their economic efficiency was, ehm… low. Their centralization was not natural and the communication channels were really bad so it was displayed in lack of basic products for everyday use.

  • Kristin R

    I mostly agree with the bullet points at the end of this article. I do see the need for a big change in our current system, and most of these ideas make sense to me (although, I have not studied them thoroughly). However, I have seen in other articles on this blog that you would rally us to do as our founding fathers have done… “what would our founding fathers do?” Yet, it is my understanding that they DID NOT support Direct Democracy. They, in fact, were very adamant that their government was a Democratic Republic and NOT a Direct Democracy. Their fear of this form of government was rooted in their careful study of the Romans as well as other failed governments of our world’s history.

    Again, very well thought out solutions to our current economic and political climate. However, I would warn against a form of government that gives all decision making power to the masses – who I believe can often by relied upon to make fairly uniformed decisions that they believe suites their own interest or their fancy in the moment. Thank you for this article.

  • Lance

    Corruption in the banking system is NOT the real problem. The corrupt nature of humanity is! Same old song and dance coming from the humanists of the Nobel Prize bunch! When I had some money, once, I loaned some to a friend at no interest. (Gee, where have I read that we are not to charge interest? Biblical scripture somewhere?) There was no “contract” or written document involved. I loaned it to him free of charge. I told him to pay me back as he could afford to. No set amount every month. He paid it all back over the course of a year. I helped his son buy a car. It was that simple. No banking “regulations” involved, no interest, no tax on interest, no having to report earnings, etc., etc., etc.! Thats the way it should be!