The Economist, an increasingly dogmatic apologist for the free market ideology, invited for its current issue, six academic economists to identify how they thought the financial crisis had changed the subject of economics. The answer is not a lot. So far as methods of teaching and research are concerned, nothing has changed, or is likely to change any time soon.
Vince Cable’s closing speech to the Lib-Dem’s first in-government conference has been greeted by City and business types as ‘intemperate’, as ‘emotional language’ and ‘playing to the gallery’. But he is surely right to suggest that good real economy businesses are being destroyed for the short term gain of City speculators and their ‘accomplices’ who make fat fees from takeover deals. Cable is merely making a statement of truth, which has been highlighted several times on this site regarding particular situations such as the Kraft takeover of Cadbury.
Moreover, he is also right to suggest that, left to its own devices, capitalism tends to the establishment of monopolistic positions. Again, as is highlighted elsewhere on this site, you can have free markets, or you can have competitive markets. But you can’t have both. Competition has to be protected, or it will be destroyed by those same speculators and their accomplices.
David Cameron’s special advisory committee of ten on economic strategy includes five business graduates, five knights of the realm, three retailers, three asset strippers, two accountants, a banker, a lord, an advertising exec, a publishing exec, and Sir James Dyson. Only the last named has a background in manufacturing and is likely to have got his hands dirty at work.
The new rules on bank liquidity, now agreed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, will contribute to reducing banks’ risk-taking. But not a lot, and only slowly. Under pressure from the banks themselves, the rules have been softened and their implementation slowed down. Timidity in tightening requirements is justified on the grounds that too fierce and too rapid rebuilding of bank balance sheets would take too much out of the real economy and so contribute to the much feared double dip recession. But beware!
The forthcoming Oslo conference of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) is to discuss ways of dealing with unemployment arising from the 2007-8 credit crunch. As noted elsewhere on this site, the question is one of emphasis between, on the one hand, repaying the public indebtedness which was rashly incurred as a result of private greed, and on the other hand, the protection and regeneration of employment, particularly for the most vulnerable.
The Hayek / Mises argument that any small step to the left leads inevitably to full on totalitarian socialism, might have had something going for it when the world was beset by Hitler, Stalin, and the fascist governments of Spain, Portugal and Southern America. And later, when national-socialism and fascism had become history, but communism seemed to be prospering under leadership from the Chinese as well as the Soviets, fear of centrally planned totalitarian socialism was not wholly unreasonable. But since the collapse of communism, there seems to be a rather limited rationale for fearing any initiative which might betoken even the slightest move to the left. Centrally planned totalitarian government really is not inevitable, or even feasible.