Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Layer 478 . . . The Bigger Picture, Global Financial Crisis, Economic Policies and Will Hutton

Last night the riots kicked off in Manchester, and continued in Birmingham and the West Midlands. The rest of the world looks on in amazement.

There's so much happening here that it would be easy to miss the bigger picture - the global financial crisis and the failure of economic policies. It's worth repeating - if we intend to create a better and more prosperous society it's crucial that we all pay attention to and understand the essentials of economics.

Thank heavens then for Will Hutton, who's been the wisest and most consistent voice on economics and finance since the start of the 1990s, at least. Anyone who wants to stay informed really needs to read his weekly pieces in the Observer. The latest column is one of the best-ever:

Our financial system has become a madhouse. We need radical change

As a new global crisis looms, and political paralysis worsens, genuinely bold solutions are required to overcome the malaise

The financial system has become a madhouse – a mechanism to maximise volatility, fear and uncertainty. There is nobody at the wheel. Adult supervision is conspicuous by its absence.

What is required is a paradigm shift in the way we think and act. The idea transfixing the west is that governments get in the way of otherwise perfectly functioning markets and that the best capitalism – and financial system – is that best left to its own devices. Governments must balance their books, guarantee price stability and otherwise do nothing.

This is the international common sense, but has been proved wrong in both theory and in practice. Financial markets need governments to provide adult supervision. Good capitalism needs to be fashioned and designed. Financial orthodoxy can sometimes, especially after credit crunches, be entirely wrong. Once that Rubicon has been crossed, a new policy agenda opens up. The markets need the prospect of sustainable growth, along with sustainable private and public debt.

As the IMF's chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, has suggested, if the options are public and private default, continuing bank weakness, economic stagnation (perhaps depression), or inflation, then the least bad option is to accept inflation, but to manage it within bounds.

Since inflation will happen anyway as governments seek the least bad way out, the choice in reality is whether to accept and manage it or not. Once debt is at a sustainable level and growth has resumed, then the world's financial system can be redesigned to avoid a repeat, and price stability restored.

This is the truth that cannot speak its name: as a senior financial policy official told me, even to raise it at home or abroad merely as an issue for debate is to invite universal disapproval. But truth must be faced. Britain should provide a lead – both for its own economic fortunes and to set the new international standard. As a minimum it should announce a new programme of quantitative easing, in effect printing money; insist the Bank of England uses the money it prints to buy the broadest range of private debt; and immediately replace the 2% inflation target with a target for the growth of money GDP – so getting Britain off the hook of its unpayable private debts.

The markets have issued a stark warning. The old common sense is killing the western economy and Britain's with it. We must now act to save ourselves.

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