Markets and Ponzi Schemes

The abstract of a 2003 paper by Utpal Bhattacharya:

As no rational agent would be willing to take part in the last round in a finite economy, it is difficult to design Ponzi schemes that are certain to explode. This paper argues that if agents correctly believe in the possibility of a partial bailout when a gigantic Ponzi scheme collapses, and they recognize that a bailout is tantamount to a redistribution of wealth from non-participants to participants, it may be rational for agents to participate, even if they know that it is the last round. We model a political economy where an unscrupulous profit-maximizing promoter can design gigantic Ponzi schemes to cynically exploit this “too big to fail” doctrine. We point to the fact that some of the spectacular Ponzi schemes in history occurred at times where and when such political economies existed - France (1719), Britain (1720), Russia (1994) and Albania (1997).

Add USA (2008) to the list.

It’s nice work and describes the conditions which led to the current crisis is spookily precise detail, but one must wonder whether there are enough economists publishing regularly that there’s a paper describing every possible calamity in spooky detail—and even more papers describing impossible calamities.

(Via metafilter.)