Ever since there has been a capitalist world-economy, one essential mechanism of its successful functioning has been the runaway factory. After a period of significant accumulation of capital by so-called leading industries (usually about twenty-five years), the level of profit has gone down, both because of the undermining of the quasi-monopoly of the leading industry and because of the rise in labor costs due to syndical action of some sort.
When this happened, the solution was for the factory to “runaway.” What this means is that the site of production was transferred to some other part of the world-system that had “historically lower wage levels.” In effect, the capitalists who controlled the leading industries were trading increased transaction costs for reduced labor costs. This maintained significant income for them, if nonetheless lower than in the previous period when they still had a quasi-monopoly.
Mark Blyth argues that economic ideas are powerful political tools as used by domestic groups in order to effect change since whoever defines what the economy is, what is wrong with it, and what would improve it, has a profound political resource in their possession. Blyth analyzes the 1930s and 1970s, two periods of deep-seated institutional change that characterized the twentieth century. Viewing both periods of change as part of the same dynamic, Blyth argues that the 1930s labor reacted against the exigencies of the market and demanded state action to mitigate the market’s effects by “embedding liberalism” and the 1970s, those who benefited least from such “embedding” institutions, namely business, reacted against these constraints and sought to overturn that institutional order. In Great Transformations, Blyth demonstrates the critical role economic ideas played in making institutional change possible and he rethinks the relationship between uncertainty, ideas, and interests on how, and under what conditions, institutional change takes place.
This is a brilliant, meticulously researched book, which is a worthy successor to Karl Polanyi‘s seminal work, The Great Transformation, from which it explicitly draws its inspiration.
Conservatives have succeeded in casting government spending as useless profligacy that has made economy worse, centering the policy debate in the wake of the financial crisis on draconian budget cuts. They are told that they need to live in an age of austerity since they have all lived beyond their means and now need to tighten their belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer. That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn’t work. As the past two years of trying and countless other historical examples show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all that happens is a shrinking economy. Second, it relies upon those who didn’t make the mess to clean it up, which is always bad politics. Third, it rests upon a tenuous and thin body of evidence and argumentation that acts more to prop up dead economic ideas and preserve astonishingly skewed income and wealth distributions than to restore prosperity for all. In Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Blyth demolishes the conventional wisdom, marshaling an army of facts to demand that we recognize austerity for what it is, and what it costs us.
Banking is not difficult to understand. Most of the issues are quite straightforward. But banking does need to be demystified and the issues do need to be explained to widen the circle of participants in the debate.
We want to encourage more people to form and to trust their opinions, to ask questions, to express doubts and to challenge the flawed arguments that pervade the policy debate.
If more people understand the issues, politicians and regulators will be more accountable to the public. Flawed and dangerous narratives — “the bankers’ new clothes” — must not win.
As one year of sluggish growth spills into the next, there is growing debate about what to expect over the coming decades. Was the global financial crisis a harsh but transitory setback to advanced-country growth, or did it expose a deeper long-term malaise?
So, is the main cause of the recent slowdown an innovation crisis or a financial crisis? Perhaps some of both, but surely the economic trauma of the last few years reflects, first and foremost, a financial meltdown, even if the way forward must simultaneously treat other obstacles to long-term growth.
The market will not, on its own, solve any of these problems. Global warming is a quintessential “public goods” problem. To make the structural transitions that the world needs, we need governments to take a more active role – at a time when demands for cutbacks are increasing in Europe and the US.
As we struggle with today’s crises, we should be asking whether we are responding in ways that exacerbate our long-term problems. The path marked out by the deficit hawks and austerity advocates both weakens the economy today and undermines future prospects. The irony is that, with insufficient aggregate demand the major source of global weakness today, there is an alternative: invest in our future, in ways that help us to address simultaneously the problems of global warming, global inequality and poverty, and the necessity of structural change.
The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come.
It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.
Desde hace 30 años, en los países de Europa, en los Estados Unidos y prácticamente en todo el mundo, hubo un crecimiento extraordinario de las desigualdades. Podemos incluso hablar de una mundialización de las desigualdades. Se trata de un fenómeno espectacular.
En la mayoría de los países se están multiplicando los ghettos, las formas de secesión y de separatismo social. La historia de la democracia nos muestra que la democracia tenía como objetivo la construcción de un mundo común entre los habitantes de un país. Hoy vemos la multiplicación de los mecanismos de encierro en sí mismo.
Necesitamos que en la sociedad haya redistribución y también solidaridad, pero para que haya solidaridad es preciso que antes se tenga el sentimiento de que pertenecemos a un mundo común. Hoy, lo que les falta a nuestras sociedades es precisamente la posibilidad de rehacer el lazo social. La igualdad es una forma de rehacer ese lazo social.
… confusion that there was a Good Hayek and a Bad Hayek. The Good Hayek also knew that unrestricted laissez-faire is unworkable. It has serious defects: successful actors reach for monopoly power, and some of them succeed in grasping it; better-informed actors can exploit the relatively ignorant, creating an inefficiency in the process; the resulting distribution of income may be grossly unequal and widely perceived as intolerably unfair … — the list is long. The Bad Hayek emerged when he aimed to convert a wider public. Then, as often happens, he tended to overreach, and to suggest more than he had legitimately argued.
These matters of personal style actually count for something. One of the great merits of Burgin’s book is to show how the character and the content of the free-market ideology changed when the flag passed from Hayek and Company to Friedman and Company. Despite the efforts of a small band of the faithful, the Tea Party is, and is likely to remain, more Friedman than Hayek: harder-line, more brashly confident, less concerned with getting things quite right, and without sympathy for losers.
Beyond the banking world, a parallel universe of shadow banks has grown in the form of hedge funds and money market funds. They’re outside the reach of conventional financial regulation, prompting authorities to plan introducing new rules to prevent the obscure sector from triggering a new financial crisis. But in doing so they risk drying up an important source of funding to banks and firms.