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Fear and Market Failure: Global Imbalances and "Self-insurance"

Marcus Miller and Lei Zhang

CSGR Working Paper 216/07 

December 2006



Two key issues are examined in an integrated framework: the emergence of global imbalances and the precautionary motive for accumulating reserves. Standard models of general equilibrium would predict modest current account surpluses in the emerging markets if they face higher risk than the US itself. But, with pronounced Loss Aversion in emerging markets, their precautionary savings can generate substantial ‘global imbalances’, especially if there is an inefficient supply of global ‘insurance’. A combination of fear and market failure generates imbalances as a general equilibrium outcome. In principle, lower real interest rates will ensure aggregate demand equals supply at a global level: but disequilibrium may result if the required real interest rate is negative.

 A precautionary savings glut appears to us to be a temporary phenomenon, however, destined for correction as and when adequate reserve levels are achieved. If the process of correction is triggered by ‘Sudden Stop’ on capital flows to the US, might this not lead to “hard landing” that is forecast by several leading macroeconomists? When precautionary saving is combined with financial panic, history offers no guarantee of full employment.



Stochastic dynamic general equilibrium, loss aversion, liquidity trap.

JEL Classification: D51, D52, E12, E13, E21, E44, F32.



The paper has benefited from feedback at seminars in Birkbeck College, in the Universities of Warwick, Manchester and York, and at the IADB. We thank in particular David Backus, Jonathan Cave, Jayasri Dutta, Sayantan Ghosal, Chris Meissner, Adam Posen, Herakles Polemarchakis, Neil Rankin, Romain Raciere and Joseph Stiglitz for their comments. We are especially indebted to John Driffill, director of the ESRC World Economics and Finance Programme, for his encouragement and support, though we remain responsible for errors. The authors gratefully acknowledge the research assistance of Parul Gupta and the financial support of the ESRC, under Grant No. RES-051-27-0125 for Marcus Miller, and for Lei Zhang under Grant No. RES-156-25-0032.


Contact Details:

Centre for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR)

Warwick University

CV4 7AL Coventry (UK)