In every walk of life there are people who are greedy, selfish and sometimes those who downright cheat. Some MPs stretched their expenses to the limit, some people have cheated on social security benefits and some bankers have behaved in a totally irresponsible way.
Greed is never a virtue but, in a market economy, the effect of greed is normally attenuated. It is difficult for me to get rich in business unless I provide something of value to somebody else. Occasionally, the selfish, the greedy and the incompetent prosper at the expense of others, but it is not the norm.
If greedy, incompetent and selfish bankers have managed to bring down the financial system, then there must be something from outside the system that has made it malfunction. Politicians, regulators and central bankers are responsible for creating what liberal economists call “the rules of the game” within which markets operate – and they have designed them badly.
As such, the argument of the Institute of Economic Affairs’ new publication Verdict on the Crash is that government failure and not market failure is responsible for the collapse in financial markets.
It is now widely accepted that the boom and bust which culminated in the Great Depression of the 1930s stemmed from a catastrophically mismanaged monetary policy. So, it is natural that we should start by examining monetary policy to see if it was a cause of the crash of 2008. And so it turns out to be.
Low interest rates led to monetary aggregates expanding, an asset-price boom, low saving and a boom in consumption. Higher asset prices raised the value of collateral against secured loans thus encouraging more lending and higher leverage while reducing the apparent risk faced by lenders and borrowers.
Low interest rates encouraged unsustainable borrowing, consumption and investment and exacerbated the problem of global imbalances. For six years from 2001, the US Federal Reserve sent the message to participants in financial markets that, if the markets were to fail, the Fed would underpin them.
No wonder any consideration of risk went out the window. Policy in the UK was also irresponsible, though over a shorter time. The man who is now our Prime Minister told everybody that he had abolished boom and bust. Is it any wonder that people under-priced risk?
Read the full article here.