Department of "Huh?!": Austerity Bad and Stimulus Bad too Department
David Blanchflower: Ben Bernanke's history lesson: doing too little is worse than too much

Alan Beattie, Archon of the Shrill: Selections from His "Who’s in Charge Here?"

Alan Beattie:

Book extract: Who’s in Charge Here?: The problem is not the international monetary or economic system as such. It is that economic policy was run badly within that system…. Financial regulators and central banks were far too nonchalant about the huge amount of borrowing that was going on, and the ever more exotic financial assets that were being created to facilitate it. Governments in economies such as the UK and USA watched huge housing booms take off, financed by those incomprehensible financial instruments, and cheered them on their way…. But there was nothing inevitable about making these mistakes. Nothing in the global economic system forced the USA to run a hopelessly dispersed regulatory system that allowed financial institutions to escape proper scrutiny…. No one compelled a gang of countries in Continental Europe to yoke their disparate economies together in a badly designed currency union that encouraged asset bubbles in the periphery fueled by reckless lending by banks in the centre.

Some argue that the crisis was inevitable because the big emerging markets, particularly China, by persisting in intervening in the foreign exchange markets to hold down their own currencies, were in effect shovelling huge amounts of money at the rich world…. But the mistakes of countries on the receiving end were avoidable without changing the system – indeed, some countries have largely avoided them. Countries where governments exercised proper control over their banks, such as Canada and Australia, have been much more stable. Not a single major Canadian financial institution failed during the crisis….

The current predicament of the world economy is all the more poignant because it is unnecessary. This is a political and ideological crisis, not a technocratic one. Authorities could have done, and could still do, a lot to prevent their economies sliding back into recession and financial chaos. That they are not doing so is not just because of a lack of political will. It is also because significant numbers of voters and politicians have learnt precisely the wrong lessons from previous episodes and are determined to make similar mistakes all over again.