Inequality is Killing Capitalism

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Robert Skidelsky in Project Syndicate:

Impaired banks that do not want to lend must somehow be “made whole.” This has been the purpose of the vast bank bailouts in the US and Europe, followed by several rounds of “quantitative easing,” by which central banks print money and pump it into the banking system through a variety of unorthodox channels. (Hayekians object to this, arguing that, because the crisis was caused by excessive credit, it cannot be overcome with more.)

At the same time, regulatory regimes have been toughened everywhere to prevent banks from jeopardizing the financial system again. For example, in addition to its price-stability mandate, the Bank of England has been given the new task of maintaining “the stability of the financial system.”

This analysis, while seemingly plausible, depends on the belief that it is the supply of credit that is essential to economic health: too much money ruins it, while too little destroys it.

But one can take another view, which is that demand for credit, rather than supply, is the crucial economic driver. After all, banks are bound to lend on adequate collateral; and, in the run-up to the crisis, rising house prices provided it. The supply of credit, in other words, resulted from the demand for credit.

This puts the question of the origins of the crisis in a somewhat different light. It was not so much predatory lenders as it was imprudent, or deluded, borrowers, who bear the blame. So the question arises: Why did people want to borrow so much? Why did the ratio of household debt to income soar to unprecedented heights in the pre-recession days?

Let us agree that people are greedy, and that they always want more than they can afford. Why, then, did this “greed” manifest itself so manically?

To answer that, we must look at what was happening to the distribution of income.

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