jueves, 26 de enero de 2012

History Repeated - Globalization and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz

Globalization and its Discontents has now been around for ten years. In 2002 the book was published as the tech bubble burst. It was five years since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. It was the better part of two decades since the Third World debt crisis of the 1980s effectively removed the livelihoods of masses in Latin America and Africa. And it was also ten years since the demise of the Soviet Union and its bloc.

Joseph Stiglitz’s book analyses the response of the world’s major financial institutions, especially the World Bank and the International Monetary fund, to these crises. National aid programmes and commercial banks also figure in the discussion. His conclusions were clear at the time – and remain so today. The ideologically-driven policy orthodoxy promoted by these bodies has repeatedly proved to be counter-productive.

I lived in Asia at the time of the crisis. I remember arguing with a Malaysian colleague about the need to take the medicine, as the IMF’s prescriptions were described. Integrate fully, open your markets, remove controls and accommodate foreign interests: this was the orthodoxy. When Malaysia did the opposite, I scoffed. The Malaysian economy subsequently contracted less than others, its people suffered less pain and recovery came quicker. Thailand in particular swallowed the prescribed pills and continued to suffer.

And, by the way, during the debt crisis of the 1980s, a number of Western banks became insolvent and had to be rescued. In that era, however, most measures were put in place behind closed doors so we never got to know the lurid details. We did, however, notice the recession.

Joseph Stiglitz illustrates how the right-wing ideology of perfect, self-regulating markets, liberalisation and privatisation failed to deliver in the past. He repeatedly shows how ensuing liquidity crises were treated with adjustment loans that undermined their own goals. He repeatedly shows how a range of measures calculated to address several angles of the problem simultaneously tended to produce better results. The evidence he presents is compelling.

So why, in 2012, do we again seem to be in the same tightening trap? Wherever lack of regulation or deregulation has been applied, it seems to produce the same results. Couple that with the reality of imperfect markets where no-one feels they will ever have to answer for either greed or risk and, it seems, you finish with a crash and then recession. And those who suffer are rarely those who created the problems. Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it. And what about those who ignore advice? Why use again a treatment that kills the patient? Here we go again.

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