Yanis Varoufakis on the paradox of success

“Self-restraint, as the philosophers know, is a rare and bewildering virtue. It is also a virtue that tends to come unstuck the more powerful we become. In this it resembles the relationship between trust and success: the stronger the bonds of trust between us, the greater our collective and individual success. But success breeds greed, and greed is a solvent of trust. Similarly with self-restraint: having it can help one succeed. But then success poses a threat to one’s self-restraint.”

Yanis Varoufakis (2015), The Global Minotaur – America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy (p.249)

This thought-provoking quote is taken from the postscript of Varoufakis‘s enlightening book on the roots and evolution of the Global Financial Crisis, originally published in 2011.

The author describes how post-war US hegemony produced a ‘Global Plan’ which helped to underpin a successful capitalism for twenty years; its ‘finest hour’, according to Varoufakis, and what has often been called the Golden Age. This gave way to his ‘Global Minotaur’ in the 1970s, which ultimately led us to the crisis of 2008 and its collapse.

The key that links these systemic ideas, and the possibility of a successful global capitalist future is what he calls the ‘global surplus recycling mechanism’ (GSRM). The evolution of the GSRM is the unifying theme which unites the book, which I will discuss in a future post.

Some of The Global Minotaur‘s ideas overlap with those of Michael Pettis, particularly in the latter’s book The Great Rebalancing. In fact the two are largely complementary, as Pettis describes the domestic policies in countries such as China and Germany, which helped to create the financial imbalances that caused the crisis.

Trumponomics Part 1: Causes of the phenomenon

TrumponomicsAs promised, here is a review of some of the ideas covered in the fairly weighty tome Trumponomics – Causes and Consequences, recently published by the World Economics Association.

The book consists of 30 chapters, each one written by a different author. They are wide-ranging, but all come from a left perspective on economics and politics.

I am not going to review it chapter by chapter, but thought I would discuss some of the main ideas. As there is plenty to get through, I have divided it into three posts to be published this week: part 1 – causes, part 2 – consequences, and part 3 – alternatives.

Part 1 – Causes

A number of the chapters discuss the reasons for the electoral success of Donald Trump. The book is written by economists, so inevitably many of them have an economic basis. However, since their sympathies are with left wing heterodox thinking, much of it could be classed as political economy, which often incorporates political, historical and sociological ideas to an interdisciplinary analysis.

Broadly speaking, the rise of Trump can be explained by patterns of socio-economic change in recent decades which have left many behind; by the perception that particular elites, including the Democrats, have become disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people and have been captured by Wall Street and the ideology of neoliberalism; and by a campaign whose rhetoric successfully appealed to raw emotion rather than to rationality alone. Continue reading

In brief: the economics of Hyman Minsky

MinskyAs the 2008 financial crisis broke, the term ‘Minsky moment’ became widely used by commentators and financiers (it was originally coined in 1998), as the work of this relatively obscure economist came into fashion. Since then, his major works have been reprinted, and his ideas widely cited, especially among those critical of the financialization of recent decades.

Once again, from Michael Hudson‘s heterodox ‘dictionary’ of economics J is for Junk Economics (p.154-5): Continue reading

Michael Hudson on housing, student debt and economic stagnation

An interview with Professor Michael Hudson on the Real News Network, where he focuses on US house prices, the ongoing problem of private sector debt (particularly student debt) and the lacklustre performance of the economy.

Richard Koo explains balance sheet recessions

Economist Richard Koo is well known for his concept of  a ‘balance sheet recession’. In this short video he explains how the recent Great Recession, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and Japan’s economic stagnation since the 1990s are all examples of this, and what can be done about it.

A number of somewhat iconoclastic economists have explored the nature and consequences of asset-price bubbles, fueled by the accumulation of private sector debt, and their subsequent collapse, followed by private sector deleveraging (paying down debt). They include Koo, Michael Pettis, Steve Keen and Michael Hudson, the latter three being influenced by the late Hyman Minsky and his Financial Instability Hypothesis. The four of them proffer somewhat different solutions to the long stagnation that can follow the collapse of a debt-fueled asset-price bubble, which we are arguably still living through.

Koo favours a fiscal stimulus in which government spending exceeds revenue at a rate sufficient to prevent the economy collapsing as a large number of firms use their cash flow to pay down debt, rather than invest. This is what has been done intermittently in Japan. Koo argues that without the stimulus the Japanese economy would have experienced its own Great Depression, rather than simply years of stagnation.

Keen and Hudson favour a Modern Debt Jubilee in which much private debt is simply forgiven and wiped out, allowing households and firms to raise their spending on consumption and investment and drive economic recovery.

Pettis focuses his analysis on the current account imbalances across the global economy which in his view caused the build-up of debt. The unwinding of these imbalances is required to secure a more sustainable global recovery.

There is something to be said for the ideas of all of the above. I am keen to compare them and integrate the most important aspects, as their thinking overlaps to a significant extent. That will be the subject of a future post! In the meantime, I can definitely recommend watching the video as an introduction to Koo’s thinking.

Can we avoid another financial crisis? Steve Keen’s latest book

Professor Steve Keen is an economist working in the post-Keynesian tradition at Kingston University here in the UK. He is well-known as a critic of mainstream economics (see his excellent and wide-ranging book Debunking Economics) and its failure to predict or satisfactorily explain the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) and recession, which he did some years before it occurred. His latest book is Can we avoid another financial crisis?a 130-page polemic aimed at the intelligent layman.

Keen’s central thesis is that mainstream economics failed because it ignores the role of private debt creation by the financial system, known in the jargon as ‘endogenous money’. This grew unsustainably in many countries in the decades prior to the crisis and drove a boom in the real economy and, even moreso, in asset prices (stock markets and housing). Credit expansion in economies such as the US and UK started growing consistently more rapidly than GDP in the 1980s, following the deregulation of the financial sector. Although it was subject to cycles, the trend in private debt as a share of GDP was upward. When its growth slowed or even went into reverse, the result was a severe recession and the aftermath is still with us both economically and politically. Continue reading