måndag 20 juli 2009

Newsweek-läsguide till krislitteraturen

Jag tänkte mig häromveckan att jag skulle lägga upp en sånhäringa lästipsguide till depressions/världsekonomiska krisen-litteraturen. Men jag har helt enkelt inte läst tillräckligt mycket, även om jag började för några veckor sedan med att läsa FT-journalisten Gillian Tetts bok. (Och jag innan det rekommenderade Der Spiegels 40-sidorsreportage "bankrånet".)

Men nu har Robert Samuelson på Newsweek gjort just en sådan läslista.

Robert J Samuelson, "A reader's guide to the recession", Newsweek.com 20 juli

De böcker som nämns är:
Charles R. Morris, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers and the Great Credit Crash
Mark Zandi, Financial Shock: Global Panic and Government Bailouts
John Taylor, Getting Off Track: How Government Actions and Interventions Caused, Prolonged, and Worsened the Financial Crisis,
Thomas Sowell, The Housing Boom and Bust
William D. Cohan, House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
Gillian Tett, Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe
Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World
Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression Economics
Dan Gross, Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Country
Robert J Samuelson, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: the Past and Future of American Affluence

Jag noterar att olikt Times Higher Education för några veckor sedan så är inte marxisten och Cambridgeprofessorn Andrew Gambles krisbok, The Spectre at the Feast, med i Newsweeks guide. Det kanske säger något om skillnaden mellan USA och Europa. Men också i övrigt tycks Robert J Samuelsons lista vara något högervriden politiskt; jag tänker då på namn som Taylor, Sowell (de båda från högertankesmedjan Hoover Institution) och Ferguson.

Andrew Gamble, The Spectre at the Feast: Capitalist Crisis and the Politics of Recession. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, 184 sidor
Ur THE:s recension:
"The Spectre at the Feast is, he says, "about the politics of the crisis, how it arose, how we might understand it, what are its consequences, how far might it go and what might be done". Sadly, Gamble does not really grasp the first and the last of these intentions. His attempts to deal with politics rapidly shade into chronology and description rather than dissection and interpretation. The politics of the crisis has a great deal to do with the abrogation of state responsibilities and regulation and the steady transfer of power and authority to large multinational corporations and global financial and banking institutions.

While Gamble avoids grasping this particular nettle, he does detail the excesses of individual consumption and greed that are frequently associated with the consequences of rampant free-market economics. This is an intensely political debate and the crises and recession he describes are the result of political decisions to encourage free markets and casino capitalism and eschew a socially responsible politics that would protect and nurture people, places, vulnerable groups and human capital in a fair and equitable manner.

It is clear from Gamble's description and analysis that a free-market system operating in the way that produced the 2007-09 crisis was inevitable and a creature of politics. Politicians have made choices about deregulation, liberalisation, privatisation, subsidy, private finance initiatives (PFIs) and a host of other things that have encouraged a feeding frenzy in financial institutions, the taking of massively inflated profits and a widening of income and wealth inequalities in the UK and the US. What is lacking in this analysis is any sense of what shaped these political choices and caused the political and linguistic map to be redrawn to show, for example, that PFIs are "successful" when they actually require more risk and more debt to be carried by the public sector.

What is clear, however, is that politicians and bankers and the architects of global financial frippery (such as hedge funds) have engineered a seismic shift in favour of manipulating money, assets and casino capitalism, and downgraded the physical reality of investing in the ability to produce food, renewable energy, high-quality homes and a clean environment.
Both the environmental and economic crises can be fixed by a paradigm shift in the political process to direct resources into enhancing human capital, moving away from fossil-fuel dependence (as in the case of the Swedish Government's "oil-free by 2020" policy) and ditching casino capitalism in favour of investing in real things. A graphic example of the contrasting choices lies in the sad case of UK local authorities. In the past few years, encouraged by central government, they have invested public money in Icelandic banks that simply could not support the high interest rates on offer. The result was the loss of about £1 billion as those banks collapsed and were nationalised. In contrast, in the 19th century and early 20th century, local authorities in the UK invested in sewerage systems, tram systems, water supplies and other "hard" things that were real and created real jobs in every local economy.

All the free-market rhetoric on offer cannot convince the average observant citizen that chasing high interest rates in small Icelandic banks is better than investing in water systems that don't leak, homes that are warm and use little energy, high-quality public transport systems and electricity generation at each and every home, and all from non-fossil fuel sources. This is a political choice - which is fundamentally what Gamble is saying - and it is the politicians who have let us down by opting instead for the virtual (and perverse) reality of chasing quick returns through a global financial market that will always implode.

Gamble is right. It is all about politics, and the wreckage of a failed political system on both sides of the Atlantic shows the depths of the failure. In The Spectre at the Feast, he does not offer an answer to his own question about what is to be done, but he raises enough questions and makes enough links to point the way to a better future based on learning the lessons of the past."

John Whitelegg, "Book of the week: The Spectre at the Feast", THE 2 juli

Inga kommentarer: