Some industry blogs and magazines look for “thought bites” — short opinions on a topic. I wrote two recently that might interest you. (No sense in waiting for publication somewhere obscure 😉
Question from Source Magazine: Facing diminishing health, access, and supply-side options, how can water professionals ensure that markets become increasingly attractive, effective, and equitable?
My answer: Water markets, like markets for houses, cars, phones, etc., depend on clear property rights and low transactions costs to move water to its highest and best use. Water’s bulk, low value per unit, and dependency on green/gray infrastructure for storage and movement means that markets will only work at the wholesale level, i.e., among farmers and/or water/wastewater utilities. This structure can work as well for retail customers as the current structure for distributing oil works for consumers of gasoline. Equity in water markets is more tricky due to a past negligence for quantifying rights, missing information on the quantity of water available in time and place, and a failure to set aside environmental flows that should be owned in common (Public Trust). In cases where right remain with the State (and thus the people), some water should be reserved for the commons while the rest is sold to the highest bidder and revenues are distributed among citizens (the real owners of a nation’s water). In cases where rights are private property, some rights should be taken back from current owners and restored to the commons they should never have left.
Question from FE Insights blog: It’s been said that there’s a financial crisis about every 10 years. Currently, it’s been about a decade since the last one and with many analysts forecasting the global economy to begin slowing in the near future, we were wondering if you’d care to comment on when you think the next financial crisis will hit and what the catalyst(s) will be.
My answer: The next crisis has already begun, but we do not yet see the signs. The most likely sources of stress are opaque accounting and questionable governance at Chinese firms, Donald Trump’s fiscally irresponsible tax cuts for the rich and corporations, and the rise of various other populist leaders (besides Trump) who prefer mercantilist trade policies. Other factors of interest are over-compliant central banks that value economic growth over economic stability and the rising costs of climate disruption. In terms of a global recession, I think that corporate debt markets might be the first to run into trouble either due to fraud or regulatory interventions that reduce liquidity or the perceptions of risk. Although the international trading system is fairly robust relative to the situation in the 1930s, I could see a Trumpian-style war of all-against-all as a likely first casualty of any sizable macro disruption, in the same way that rising tariffs in the US (Smoot-Hawley) and elsewhere were erected in the years after 1929’s Black Friday. Although companies with large domestic revenues might appear as beneficiaries in an isolationist world, I think that their share prices will fall after a brief increase as they experience disruptions and other collateral damage from populist policies.
What would you answer to either of these questions?