Tag Archives: Debt

Three Cheers for Financial Repression

By Tom Streithorst – “Financial repression.” It sounds terrifying, right? It smacks of authoritarian bureaucrats sucking the life-blood out of hard-working, innovative makers and doers.

Umm, no. That’s not even close. It’s about bondholders. Economists started using the term in the 1970s when bondholders were losing money because inflation exceeded the interest rate.

These days, it’s market forces more than government policy that push real interest rates below zero. Whether you call it a savings glut or secular stagnation, our collective desire to save far exceeds our collective desire to invest. Savers want safe assets more than borrowers want to invest in productive capacity.

Don’t cry for the rentier class. For the past forty years (ever since Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker manufactured a brutal recession in order to eliminate 1970s inflation) economic policymakers have concentrated on ensuring the profitability of the bond market more than just about anything else. They focused their attention on financial stability and low inflation rather than the traditional goal of promoting full employment.

Consequently, the financial sector has quadrupled in size relative to the rest of the economy, the rich absorb most of the benefits of growth, and workers’ real wages have stagnated or even declined. Financialization has made wealthholders richer than ever, but it hasn’t done much for the rest of us.

What is good for the bankers has not been good for the economy as a whole. more>


Why Amartya Sen remains the century’s great critic of capitalism


The Moral Economists: R H Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E P Thompson and the Critique of Capitalism, Author: Tim Rogan.

By Tim Rogan – Critiques of capitalism come in two varieties. First, there is the moral or spiritual critique. This critique rejects Homo economicus as the organizing heuristic of human affairs. Human beings, it says, need more than material things to prosper. Calculating power is only a small part of what makes us who we are. Moral and spiritual relationships are first-order concerns. Material fixes such as a universal basic income will make no difference to societies in which the basic relationships are felt to be unjust.

Then there is the material critique of capitalism. The economists who lead discussions of inequality now are its leading exponents. Homo economicus is the right starting point for social thought. We are poor calculators and single-minded, failing to see our advantage in the rational distribution of prosperity across societies. Hence inequality, the wages of ungoverned growth. But we are calculators all the same, and what we need above all is material plenty, thus the focus on the redress of material inequality. From good material outcomes, the rest follows.

But then there is Amartya Sen. Every major work on material inequality in the 21st century owes a debt to Sen.

But his own writings treat material inequality as though the moral frameworks and social relationships that mediate economic exchanges matter. Famine is the nadir of material deprivation.

But it seldom occurs – Sen argues – for lack of food.

To understand why a people goes hungry, look not for catastrophic crop failure; look rather for malfunctions of the moral economy that moderates competing demands upon a scarce commodity. Material inequality of the most egregious kind is the problem here. more>


How capitalism without growth could build a more stable economy

By Adam Barrett – On a finite planet, endless economic growth is impossible. There is also plenty of evidence that in the developed world, a continued increase of GDP does not increase happiness.

Back in 1930 the economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that growth would end within a century – but he was unclear whether a post-growth capitalism was really possible.

Today, mainstream economic thinking still considers growth to be a vital policy objective – essential to the health of a capitalist economy. There remains a concern that ultimately, a capitalist economy will collapse without growth.

I recently published new research that suggests a different view – that a post-growth economy could actually be more stable and even bring higher wages. It begins with an acceptance that capitalism is unstable and prone to crisis even during a period of strong and stable growth – as the great financial crash of 2007-08 demonstrated.

I found that an end to growth reduces profits for business owners.

Therefore, if it remains relatively easy for money to flow across borders, then investors might abandon a post-growth country for a fast-growing developing country. Also, businesses are beholden to shareholders keen on growth as a means to rapid profit accumulation.

Some mainstream commentators and economists are now predicting a transition to a post-growth era, whatever our environmental policy – which means the study of post-growth economics is a field which itself will grow. more>


Knee-jerk cynicism is a failure of critical reasoning


Enlightenment Now, Author: Steven Pinker.
The Better Angels of Our Nature, Author: Steven Pinker.

By Thu-Huong Ha – If we see that science and humanism have solved the world’s problems before, Pinker’s argument goes, we’ll see that the problems we face today can be solved again through science and humanism. This hope ought to inoculate us against cynicism.

Despite all this sanguinity, the book also contains plenty of exasperation. Pinker chastises: the mainstream media, liberals bemoaning the state of inequality, white nationalists, communists, anti-vaxxers, social justice warriors, “climate justice warriors,” and Nietzsche.

“Since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with fore-warnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness,” Pinker writes.

“Journalists believe that by accentuating the negative they are discharging their duty as watchdogs, muckrakers, whistle-blowers, and afflicters of the comfortable. And intellectuals know they can attain instant gravitas by pointing to an unsolved problem and theorizing that it is a symptom of a sick society.” more>


‘No Cash’ Signs Everywhere Has Sweden Worried It’s Gone Too Far

By Amanda Billner – “No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in shops and eateries across Sweden as payments go digital and mobile.

But the pace at which cash is vanishing has authorities worried.

“If this development with cash disappearing happens too fast, it can be difficult to maintain the infrastructure” for handling cash, said Mats Dillen, the head of the parliamentary review.

Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet. Most of the country’s bank branches have stopped handling cash; many shops, museums and restaurants now only accept plastic or mobile payments. But there’s a downside, since many people, in particular the elderly, don’t have access to the digital society.

In response, the central bank is considering whether there’s a need for an official form of digital currency, an e-krona. A final proposal isn’t expected until late next year, but the idea is that the e-krona would work as a complement to cash, not replace it completely. more>


Monopoly Now Wants You to Cheat—Just Like Real Capitalists


Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism & The Economics of Destruction, Author: Barry Lynn.

By Nick Cassella – The year was 1904, and Lizzie Maggie wanted to create a board game that acted as “a harsh criticism of wealth disparity.” Upset by the the inequality around her, Maggie aspired to ridicule and condemn the dire outcomes of unbridled capitalism. So she constructed the Landlord’s Game, which intended to educate players on the rules and regulations of realty and taxation. Eventually, it ended up being the precursor to the game-which-nobody-ever-finishes, Monopoly.

A long time has passed since then and it’s safe to say that Maggie’s hope has not been realized. Monopoly’s creator would look at today’s economic landscape and be disheartened.

It appears as if Hasbro is trying to draw attention to Monopoly’s original purpose by releasing a new “cheaters edition” this autumn.

The cheaters edition follows the rules of classic Monopoly, except this version encourages players to break them…They encourage players to cheat in various ways, from collecting rent on another player’s property or stealing money from the bank.



Today, inflation. Tomorrow, crisis?

By Robert J. Samuelson – Until recently, inflation seemed to be dead or, at least, in a prolonged state of remission. It was beaten down by cost-saving technologies and a caution against raising wages and prices instilled by the Great Recession. From 2010 to 2015, annual inflation as measured by the CPI averaged about 1.5 percent, often too small to be noticed.

It’s doubtful that many economists believe that inflation is now so high. Remember those erratic month-to-month swings. But the pervasive nature of the inflation suggests that supply is shrinking compared with demand.

Inflation’s rebound seems to vindicate former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen, who argued that price increases were in hibernation, not the mortuary. Now, her successor, Jerome H. Powell, faces the tricky task of containing inflation without killing the economy.

What’s scarier is the possibility that higher inflation and interest rates will trigger a global financial crisis — some mixture of stock market collapses, bond and loan defaults and banking failures. more>


How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future

We need to rethink our relationships with the workplace.
By James Suzman – What happened on the Omaheke farms echoes broader trends transforming workplaces across the globe.

The same question also irked John Maynard Keynes when in the winter of 1929 he was contemplating the ruins of his personal fortune. Global stock markets had imploded and the Great Depression was slowly throttling the life out of the Euro-American economy.

To remind himself of the ephemeral nature of the crisis, he penned an optimistic essay entitled “The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren”. In it he argued that within a century technical innovation and increases in productivity would usher in a golden era of leisure that would liberate us from the tyranny of the clock, and enable us to thrive on the basis of working no more than fifteen hours per week.

Besides war, natural disasters and acts of God the only significant obstacle he saw to this Utopia being achieved was what he believed was our instinct to strive for more, to work and to create new wealth.

So he took the view that, save a few “purposeful money makers”, we would recognize the economic Utopia for what it was , slow down and “be able to enjoy the abundance when it comes.”

Keynes was right about improved productivity and technological innovation. According to Keynes’s reasoning, on the basis of labor productivity improvements alone we should not be working more than 11 hours a week now.

But, despite having the means to work much less, many of us now work as long and hard as we did before. With the industrial revolution now having merged into the digital revolution there is a good case to be made to suggest that we have reached an inflexion point in the history of work as important as the agricultural revolution. more>


Train PhD students to be thinkers not just specialists

Many doctoral curricula aim to produce narrowly focused researchers rather than critical thinkers. That can and must change.
By Gundula Bosch – Under pressure to turn out productive lab members quickly, many PhD programs in the biomedical sciences have shortened their courses, squeezing out opportunities for putting research into its wider context. Consequently, most PhD curricula are unlikely to nurture the big thinkers and creative problem-solvers that society needs.

That means students are taught every detail of a microbe’s life cycle but little about the life scientific. They need to be taught to recognize how errors can occur. Trainees should evaluate case studies derived from flawed real research, or use interdisciplinary detective games to find logical fallacies in the literature.

Above all, students must be shown the scientific process as it is — with its limitations and potential pitfalls as well as its fun side, such as serendipitous discoveries and hilarious blunders.

This is exactly the gap that I am trying to fill at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where a new graduate science program is entering its second year. more>


Restoring Social Cohesion: A Project For 2018 And Beyond

By Michael D. Higgins – Addressing the changes and the fracture in the relationship between the citizen and society has been a matter of great importance for me throughout my Presidency.

It is a relationship that was fraying long before the onset of the Global Financial Crisis, but it has markedly lost cohesion in these last ten years, aggravated by a global macro-economic policy response that saw the losses in so many economics socialized while the gains of the financial sector were not just privatized, but concentrated at the peak of the wealth and income pyramid. Unprecedented programs of austerity became mainstream for citizens and countries reeling from the consequences of an era characterized by a new form of lightly regulated speculative capital.

The transition, in its day, between The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) of Adam Smith and his Wealth of Nations (1776) drew a more extensive debate in the eighteenth century than the changes in contemporary international economies, that are in our time presented as near inevitable, and that are being delivered as their sole policy choice to publics suffering the burden of what Pope Francis has called a ‘plague of indifference’. This includes not just the authors of policies but weary publics that are looking away, averting their gaze from deepening inequalities, the welfare of workers, the plight of migrants. He was referring to publics that, in the absence of technical literacy, felt they could not initiate change, were forced to accept what was socially damaging as ‘inevitable’.

The persistence of a failure to critique or challenge a political economy which maintains and even deepens existing inequalities of income, wealth, power and opportunity within societies and between nation-states is eroding social cohesion. more>