Thursday, October 21, 2010

Patience and Finance – By Andrew Haldane

In the East, it is said:

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life” [Chinese Proverb]

In the West, it is said:

“I often make more money when I am snoozing than when I am active” [Warren Buffett]

These observations have common conceptual roots. Underlying both lies patience. Patience, or its alter ego impatience, is a key factor shaping inter-temporal decisions. Whether to save or spend, trade or invest, work or quit, stick or twist. As such, patience has important implications for the evolution of economic and social systems.

This paper considers the role of patience in decision-making, in particular financial decision-making. Patience is not static; it evolves. This paper brings together lessons from economics, history, psychology, neurology, sociology to assess patience and its implications for the evolution of economic and financial systems.

Evidence from social and economic systems points to two evolutionary paths. Along one, patience becomes self-reinforcing. For example, financial liberalisation may encourage patience and improve inter-temporal choice, unlocking growth. But there is a second path, along which impatience is self-reinforcing. Financial liberalization can also unlock impatience, generating over-trading and under-investment.

These dual equilibria make choosing the right pace and path of financial reform crucial. Some countries, like China, appear to be proceeding along the patient path. The choice is how to pace reform to prevent overshooting onto the impatient path. For countries which have already liberalised, the choice is how to promote patience while harnessing impatience. These are real public policy choices.