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5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Free Market Failure, 27 July 2010
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This review is from: Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy (Hardcover)
Joseph Stiglitz has made the transition from being at the centre of one of the main institutions of the Washington Consensus, to a principled opponent of these very same institutions, and the current "free" market orthodoxy which still tenaciously holds it grip on economic thinking at the global and national level. In "Freefall" he looks at the current economic debacle, how it happened, its origins, the inadequate response, as well as speculating on what might get us out of this awful mess. His focus is almost wholly on the US experience with only occasional sideway glances at events in Europe and across the globe.

The narrative of the events, and processes, that led to the credit crunch are put before the reader in a concise and comprehensive manner, including the variety of complex financial innovations that contributed to the crash. Stiglitz then looks at the Bush and the Obama administrations, he is fairly scathing about the latter, in particular regarding his economic team, almost all of them have played a part in getting the US economy into its current state. Unsurprisingly he finds their responses to be inadequate, and primarily focused at preserving financial institutions that have failed, and a policy environment that has failed, at the expense of the majority of the US population (he calls the bank rescue program "The Great American Robbery"). Stiglitz appears to favour some sort of bankruptcy proceeding for banks, as well as legislating for a return to the separation of commercial banks from investment banks, amongst other measures.

Next Stiglitz looks at the mortgage industry, particularly the sub-prime segment of it. The details of the practice of this industry in the US (and even in the UK where 42% of mortgages applications are apparently still self-certified) is enough to make the jaw drop of even the most cynical of readers. This is followed with a more general appraisal of Americas position with rising public debt, it's relationship with China, and a still dysfunctional financial sector.

One of the more interesting chapters is Stiglitz look at the rise and failure of the free-market economics: one still awaits its fall or it being reduced to its proper place. Issues highlighted include persistent failure to deal with reality as opposed to the asinine assumptions it makes regarding it, the poor record it has regarding growth, and its failure to improve the circumstances of the American population (US GDP grew by 10% between 2000 and 2008, median household income fell by 4%!). The final chapter "Towards a New Society" steps back from the crisis and looks at how we can begin to move towards a society that works for the majority of the population, rather than one run in the interests of the few.

A stimulating read, that packs a surprising amount of narrative, analysis and thinking into 300 pages. One shortcoming is that despite being fully referenced the book omits an index. I assume this will be rectified when "Freefall" is published in paperback? A book that I would have no problems recommending to anyone interested in how the economic crisis came about, the resulting response, it's roots, as well as some more fundamental thinking on the whole debacle.
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Initial post: 14 May 2011 22:23:08 BDT
Last edited by the author on 14 May 2011 22:25:01 BDT
S Wood says:
Note: Paperback edition has full index, as well as fifty page afterword covering events up to the middle of 2010.
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