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Excellent study of capitalism's crisis,
This review is from: Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy (Hardcover)In this brilliant book, the noted American economist Joseph Stiglitz explores why the crisis happened. Across the world, the crisis destroyed 50 million jobs and thrust 200 million people down into extreme poverty. From December 2007 to October 2009 the US economy lost 8 million jobs and unemployment rose to 10.2 per cent. Only 58.5 per cent of the working age population was in work. 2.3 million Americans lost their homes in 2008 alone. Bank executives' contracts were sacred; workers' wage contracts were negotiable - down.
Stiglitz has a chapter called The Great American Robbery. The top 50 hedge and private equity fund managers got an average $588 million each in 2007. Nine US banks, which made record losses of $100 billion, got $175 billion public money, and promptly paid out a record $33 billion in bonuses. As the Chair of one of the House of Representatives' Committees said, "the banks run the place ... they give three times more money than the next biggest group." Stiglitz notes that the UK's partial privatisation of pensions shifted 40 per cent of their value out of the pensions and into financiers' fees.
The US government, like the British, has lent money to the banks at very low interest rates. Stiglitz asks, "Why not use the government's ability to borrow at a low interest rate to provide less expensive credit to homeowners under stress?" Banks that are `too big to fail' gain from this access to cheaper capital because lenders know that taxpayers will pick up the losses. So these banks grow at the expense of their smaller rivals.
Public money went to the big banks, which didn't lend to small and medium businesses, but kept the money for themselves, in bonuses and dividends. Early in 2009, Hank Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury, ex-Goldman Sachs, gave AIG $180 billion, which then gave Goldman Sachs $13 billion. By contrast, US aid to Africa in 2008 was $6.5 billion.
In the USA, financial firms back the student loans programme, a Public-Private Partnership in which the taxpayer bears the risk and private firms get the gains. The US government issues the loans, so there is no risk of non-payment, but the lenders still charge interest rates as if there were such a risk. Thus the US government gave the private sector $80 billion of taxpayers' money over the last ten years, because using private firms cost that much more than if the government had lent the money itself.
Stiglitz shows that markets are not efficient and self-correcting; they do not allocate resources efficiently, especially not to innovation; and they redistribute wealth (from the poor to the rich), they do not create it. He points out that "Tax cuts encourage consumption, when the government should be promoting investment."
The US government has embraced finance capital, so there is "a predictable outcome - future crises; undue risk-taking at the public expense, no matter what the promise of a new regulatory regime; and greater inefficiency."