Despite their much vaunted economic expertise, the leading national and global institutions failed to prevent the financial and economic crisis they’re now arguing over how to clear up. The IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) reported last month on why the IMF, as one such institution, failed to identify the risks and give clear warnings. The prime causes of that failure were identified as ‘analytical weaknesses’, which were actually shared by all relevant institutions. These analytical weaknesses included a tendency, among IMF economists, to be dominated by neoclassical free market dogma, and so to believe ‘market discipline and self-regulation’ would be sufficient to avoid financial disaster, and to trust the new mathematically based techniques for spreading financial risk, and to conflate the financial and industrial sectors, thus ignoring the influence of finance over the real economy. ‘Perhaps the more worrisome was the overreliance by many economists on models as the only valid tool to analyze economic circumstances that are too complex for modelling.’ (Paragraph 46).
The end of the self-defeating miners’ strike in 1985 led to the somewhat fundamentalist right wing government imposing severe restrictions on the unions’ rights to engage in industrial action. Despite the 13 years of Labour rule, those restrictions were never undone. So it remains extremely difficult, within the law, for the union movement to mount any general industrial action. However, the wholesale nature of the current government’s expenditure cuts, presents a once in a life time opportunity for the unions to mount a hundred or more individual legitimate trade disputes, which could, to all intents and purposes, look very much like a general strike. The unions hope this will be the appearance of their London demonstration at the end of March, which they expect to attract a million supporters.
A recent article in The Economist pointed out that Britain, the original industrialiser for long in relative economic decline, owned 45% of the world’s foreign direct investment in 1914, but now has substantially less than 10%. The United States’ foreign direct investment peaked at around 50% in 1967 and is now less than half that. Today China (including Hong Kong and Macau) has a share of just 6%, but is growing fast. Britain and the United States might best be described as in the post-mature phase of their economic development. Such characterisation is also confirmed by the Anglo-American emphasis on finance and wealth ownership, rather than technology, customers and wealth creation. Those latter are the concern of more dynamically positioned economies, such as China and India, which are in the early growth stages of their development.
The desire to return to business as usual isn’t restricted to the obscenity of bankers’ bonuses. That same desire is shared by unemployed potters in Stoke on Trent, car workers in Detroit, and the governing politicians in London and Washington who are presiding over their people’s misery.
However, for the millions in China’s (not to mention India’s and Brazil’s) rural hinterland who have never lived much above the bread-line, some having experienced genuine famine, working on an iPad production line in Shanghai, or the like, may not pay much by Western standards, but it’s a huge improvement on business as usual.