Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Underlying Problems of the Financial Crisis

This financial crisis is not caused by a shortage of capital. The world is awash in capital. Why else would capitalists be making bad investments? When all the good investments are funded the only ones left are the bad ones, or using the money to speculate in financial markets. Now these banks and hedge funds with all the money are pulling their capital out of productive uses and putting it in government securities at little or no interest because they are afraid they will lose it. In short, they are hoarding, instead of investing. The government giving these same banks more money will not fix the problem. Why wouldn't the banks just take the cash and pay it out in dividends and executive bonuses, buy more government bonds, or use it to de-leverage bad investments? The most direct way for the government to solve the crisis would be to take the money they're getting and invest it in productive companies that need the cash to operate or expand, or divert it to infrastructure projects and research that employ people who will spend the money they earn, thus creating demand. To give the money to people who have demonstrated that they won't invest it in productive enterprises is rewarding them for bad behavior. When the private financial system fails, it's an opportunity to show that the federal system works, not a time to be weak kneed and just throw good money after bad and send the bill to the taxpayers of the future.

The genesis of this whole problem is the world wide financial pyramid that allows corporations to divert most of their profits to executives and stockholders, while squeezing labor costs to the bone. They spend huge sums lobbying for special treatment and tax loopholes. This is the whole reason that corporations exist. Over the last several decades wages have stagnated while capital has been accumulating. People have even been encouraged to borrow against what few assets they have to spend more on products and services, allowing corporations to divert even more to executives and stockholders. Why should they do otherwise? Only the government has the power to balance the creation of capital against the welfare of the general public, through regulation and taxes. Call it class warfare, or whatever you want. That's what happening. There is no need for government to pay people to do nothing. Our infrastructure is falling apart, research on new technolgies is suffering, and demand is falling because consumers have exhausted their credit, prices for goods and services continue to rise, while paychecks stagnate. The government needs to play a positive role in countering the excess accumulation of capital at the expense of the standard of living of average citizens.

International trade has exacerbated the problem. Having goods made offshore, where labor is cheaper makes for higher profits and greater opportunity for diverting more to capital, less to labor. Profits of offshore enterprises mount and what do they do with these profits? They invest them in US government securities, fund US consumer debt, or bid up the price of assets around the world, creating the bubbles we've seen. Petroleum exporting countries pile up huge cash reserves looking for a place to make more money. The answer is to put this excess capital in the hands of consumers that will spend it instead of hoard it. This can only be done through progressive taxation, direct government investment in enterprises that produce useful goods, or government funding of infrastructure or long term projects for which there are long gains. Corporations will only invest for the short term. Their stock is valued on current or short term profits, not long term success. That's why they show little interest in future technologies and keep building gas guzzlers until oil prices skyrocket. The conservative distrust of government has been a primary reason why we are in this fix, since government is the only solution to correcting it. If this financial crisis doesn't demonstrate this, I don't know what will.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Great post. Fantastic.