Financialisation is a problem for capitalism. Is socialism the solution? (Part 2)

In this recent post I outlined some of the ideas in Grace Blakeley’s new book Stolen – How to Save the World from Financialisation. Her answer to the apparent political, social and economic problems with financialisation under capitalism is a transformation towards democratic socialism, starting in the UK and spreading across the world.

In the book she describes a range of policies that would, she hopes, encourage such a trend: a Public Investment Bank; a People’s Asset Manager to encourage the spread of public ownership; an ambitious Green New Deal; changes to corporate governance so that a much wider range of stakeholders are more closely involved in decision-making, not only in non-financial corporations, but also in banks and including the Bank of England. She also argues for the restoration of trade union power and influence, the refinancing of private debt and much tougher regulation of private banking, to encourage definancialisation domestically and ultimately globally. Continue reading

Financialisation is a problem for capitalism. Is socialism the solution? (Part 1)

GraceBlakeleyStolenThe rise of finance across the world economy in recent decades and its spectacular fall from grace as the crisis of 2008 unfolded has given birth to the notion of financialisation in academic circles, particularly among heterodox economists. Grace Blakeley, economics commentator for the New Statesman magazine, research fellow at the IPPR think tank and a rising star on the radical left here in the UK, has written an accessible book which attempts to make sense of this phenomenon and attempts to overcome it. Stolen – How to Save the World from Financialisation is aimed at the intelligent layman rather than being an academic work.

In the book, Blakeley explores the recent history of financialisation and the increasing power of finance in society and its damaging economic, social and political impact, focusing mainly on the UK. She also proposes a solution: democratic socialism. In two posts, of which this is the first, I explore some of the thinking in the book and elsewhere on financialisation and its consequences, as well as potential solutions which aim to mitigate or remove its deleterious nature. Continue reading

Inequality in the OECD: causes and policy responses

Inequality has become a ‘big’ topic in recent years, of concern both to economists and the public at large. This is exemplified by the popularity of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and many other works. I have written on some of these studies here.

They continue to be churned out: in the July issue of the heterodox Cambridge Journal of Economics, Pasquale Tridico of Roma Tre University analyses the determinants of income inequality in 25 OECD countries between 1990 and 2013. He finds that ‘financialisation’, increased labour market flexibility, the declining influence of trade unions and welfare state retrenchment have been key to its rise.

When other factors such as economic growth, technological change, globalization and unemployment are taken into account, the above four causes remain important, and, to the extent that they can be changed as a matter of policy, they can mitigate inequality without harming economic growth. They are therefore not the full story but, for example, the negative effects of rising unemployment on inequality can be reduced if there is a strong social safety net in place. Continue reading

Michael Hudson on Quantitative Easing

Plenty of economists, investors and others have been wondering what will happen to financial markets and the real economy as monetary stimulus in the form of Quantitative Easing is wound down by central banks from the US to the Eurozone in the face of stronger growth.

I will be writing more about it next week, considering the perspectives of critic Richard Koo among others, but here is Michael Hudson from, as ever, his iconoclastic and insightful ‘dictionary’ J is for Junk Economics (p.189-91): Continue reading

Finance, inequality, ecology – an interview with Steve Keen

A nice interview with post-Keynesian Professor Steve Keen, in which he discusses what are (or should be) some of the most important issues in modern economics.

He covers the role of finance and private debt in generating inequality and what can be done to reduce it; the idea and feasibility of a universal basic income; economics and planetary ecology; and the incorporation of energy into economic models.

J is for Junk Economics – Michael Hudson on the Real News Network

This year I have been regularly posting excerpts from Michael Hudson’s new book J is for Junk Economics. Below is Part One of his interview with The Real News Network, in which he discusses his reasons for writing this iconoclastic ‘dictionary’ of economic thought. In his words, it is a guide to how the economy really works and seeks to overturn a misleading orthodoxy propagated by the media and many academics, not least economists!

Michael Hudson on Class Consciousness

Here is another extract from Michael Hudson‘s excellent J is for Junk Economics (p.57-8):

Class Consciousness: This term has been associated mainly with the working class, but the elites may have an even stronger feeling of solidarity as a cohesive class. Their view of their place in the economy is much like that of England’s Norman conquerors, who extracted rental and tax tribute. The medieval Arab historian Ibn Khaldun attributed the conquests by pastoral nomads such as Genghis Kahn and Turkish tribes moving into Europe to the binding force of asabiyyah (asabiya), or social cohesiveness. His Muqaddimah, an introduction to a history of the world published in 1377, explained the rise and fall of nations and empires as reflecting the degree to which marauding tribes held together as an ethnic unit, whose mutual aid and shared goals spanned economic classes. Today’s financial class is cosmopolitan rather than ethnic or nationalist, absorbing client oligarchies into its ranks.

What is needed for economic success as a class is self-consciousness of common interests. Labor has won concessions from industry, but has not deterred finance from exploiting wage earners via mortgage lending, personal debt and pension-fund capitalism. Wealth is concentrated at the top of the economic pyramid as banks and bondholders gain control of industry and move to take over governments. Their political aim is to shift taxes off finance and its major clients, and to force taxpayers to pay interest to private bondholders. It seems as if today’s working class (the 99 percent) does not realize that a class war is being waged against them – or that as Warren Buffett said of his own One Percent, “we are winning it.”

The financial strategy in this class war is to popularize “identity politics” prompting voters to think of themselves as women, ethnic or racial minorities, or sexual categories (LBGTQ) instead of economic categories such as wage earners, debtors and/or renters. True identity politics should begin with economic class consciousness, solidarity and mutual aid. There can be little promotion of group self-interest without this.”