The Power of Capital
The most valuable economic substance in the world is capital. It is not “money” if we define money as pieces of green paper. Governments cannot create wealth by printing money. If they could we wouldn’t have to work.
The formation of capital plus a culture of entrepreneurship is the only way to create economic well being. When government policies destroy capital it diminishes everyone’s economic well being.
Capital is saved wealth. If you produce goods and you make a profit and save the profit, then you have created capital. Ditto with your labor. If you spend all of your wages, you’ve saved none of the wealth created from the goods you made and you have no capital.
It takes societies a long time to create and amass capital. In the U.S. we have a dynamic financial infrastructure to generate wealth/capital. It started with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but it took about a century to create our wealth-creating financial infrastructure. While you can criticize it all you want, wealth is widely distributed in America when one compares our standard of living to elsewhere.
This financial infrastructure is called capitalism.
Our current economic policies are destroying capital and our well being. These policies are now globalized. They are the Economics of Mass Destruction.
International Coordination of Economic Policy
I have a folder entitled “Supranational” in which I keep research related to international regulation of the world’s economy. As I anticipated, after the Crash nations joined together to coordinate economic policies and the regulation of financial activities.
The conformance of economic policies was rather automatic. Most of the world’s economic ministers, especially those of the G-20 countries, have adopted familiar Neo-Keynesian/Neoclassical policies of fiscal and monetary stimulus. In most countries the results of these policies have been as disappointing as ours.
Look at monetary stimulus. It is no coincidence that central bank interest rates of advanced economies are historically low; they all are trying to create massive monetary stimulus to revive their economies. Higher interest rate countries such as the BRICs with less stable economies either have more trouble selling sovereign bonds on the international markets or are attempting to thwart rising prices.
Almost all these countries engaged in fiscal stimulus as well. The Bush Administration committed about $700 billion to the various bailout schemes. Then the Obama Administration came up with a massive Keynesian spending program (initially $787 billion). Other countries followed:
Type of Stimulus as a Percentage of GDP
Note this subsidies chart doesn’t reflect the U.S. TARP and related bailouts. Source the OECD
The last piece of the globalization of economic policy was to increase regulation over financial activities. The post-Crash drive to coordinate financial regulation was unified by the theory that the cause of the Crash was Wall Street: the investment banks, investment companies, hedge funds, the big “banksters,” and insurance companies. Not to mention greed and overpaid executives. If governments admit any fault it is that they failed to adequately exercise their existing regulatory powers.
Which means that many of the laws passed here are or will be similar to those enacted in other major countries. For example, the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul act contains many rules that had been discussed with G-20 counterparts. “Forum shopping” or the “you can run but you can’t hide” policy, was a major factor. The new bank capitalization rules of Basel III are an outcome of the Crash. No treaties are required to accomplish most of this legal conformation; meetings between economics ministers and their regulatory staffs were all that was needed and individual governments did the rest.
The Failure of Regulation
Unfortunately our new laws (Dodd-Frank) fail to address the primary cause of the Crash: the Federal Reserve itself. Its years of easy money policy kicked off the massive credit boom that landed on the housing market because of U.S. government policies that encouraged capital to flow into residential real estate. The boom ended when the Fed raised rates.
I don’t mean to spare Wall Street in my criticism; they failed in many ways, primarily their faulty risk models. But, while they pushed the scheme forward, they didn’t cause the boom or the bust. History shows us that cheap money from central banks, or from banks or sovereigns pre-existing central banks, always have caused these boom-bust cycles. Just because the Fed took over doesn’t mean that bad banking theories changed.
The Globalization of Failed Economic Policies
The purpose of this article is not meant to be an exposé of an international conspiracy or secret cabal to control the world. These policies are the logical conclusion of theories of economics and political organization that have been taught in our universities before our oldest citizens were college freshmen. Some of these ideas even trace back to Ancient Rome. Sub sole nihil novi est.* These ideas were developed in Europe, but took root and flowered in our best universities. Because of the stature of America’s academic institutions, which stature is founded on capitalism’s prosperity, it is no surprise that these Neo-Keynesian ideas have spread throughout the world.
*There is nothing new under the sun.
You may believe this regulatory coordination and conformation is a good thing because it gives enterprise a more stable regulatory foundation in which to operate. Or that it is necessary to prevent another crash. Or that regulators have superior knowledge and can be trusted to properly guide economies. But that is not the case.
The serious economic problems we have are the direct outcome of mainstream economic thought and these ideas now operate worldwide. If one studies economics in London, or Paris, or Rome, or Beijing, the lessons are very much the same. If one examines the policies of the EU and its member states or China or Japan, they are remarkably similar.
Perhaps the term the “Economics of Mass Destruction” is a bit of hyperbole, but I am giving fair warning that we Americans, the most dynamic capitalists and the primary drivers of the world economy, are heading for long-term economic decline if we continue with the same Keynesian doctrine that got us into the current historically big mess.
While it is nice to believe that emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India, and China will take up the slack, I am not convinced they yet have in place the cultural and financial resources that have made America the world’s leader.
Because of the globalization of these ideas, it now appears that the whole world will rise or fall on these policies.
Tomorrow, Part II of II: The fallout of the globalization of failed economic policies.