"The parasites are eating the host"
I have spent a good part of my career as a professional economist working on developing countries and emerging markets - in South America, in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and in Asia. Increasingly, I find it helpful to analyse the crises afflicting the US and the UK as emerging market crises - perhaps they could be called submerging markets crises.
During the decade leading up to the crisis, current account deficits increased steadily and became unsustainable. Strong domestic investment (much of it in unproductive residential construction) outstripped domestic saving. Government budget discipline dissipated; fiscal policy became pro-cyclical. Financial regulation and supervision was weak to non-existent, encouraging credit and asset price booms and bubbles. Corporate governance, especially but not only in the banking sector, became increasingly subservient to the interests of the CEOs and the other top managers.
There was a steady erosion in business ethics and moral standards in commerce and trade. Regulatory capture and corruption, from petty corruption to grand corruption to state capture, became common place. Truth-telling and trust became increasingly scarce commodities in politics and in business life. The choice between telling the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth) and telling a deliberate lie or half-truth became a tactical option. Combined with increasing myopia, this meant that even reputational considerations no longer acted as a constraint on deliberate deception and the use of lies as a policy instrument.
Truthiness rots everything.
As part of this widespread erosion of social capital, both citizens and markets lost faith in the ability of governments to commit themselves to any future course of action that was not validated, at each future point in time, as the most opportunistic course of action at that future point in time - what macroeconomists call time-consistent policies and game theorists call ’subgame-perfect’ strategies. ...
And now the policy implication, which is a counter-argumennt to Krugman's view that it's not possible to err on the upside of a fiscal stimulus:
Effective Keynesian fiscal policy requires a virtuous policy maker, capable of credible commitment - that is, commitment capable of resisting the future the siren calls of opportunistic reneging on past commitments. The Obama administration is new and has had but limited opportunity to abuse the trust placed in its promises and commitments. That puts it in a better position that the UK government, which has been in office since May 1997. But many of the top players in Obama’s economic team are strongly identified with the failed policies, regulations and laws that brought us the disaster we are facing.[Well done! Chalk another victory up for the Village!] So the amount of credibility capital is severely limited even for Obama. ...
The only element of a classical emerging market crisis that is missing from the US and UK experiences since August 2007 is the ’sudden stop’ - the cessation of capital inflows to both the private and public sectors. There has been a partial sudden stop of financial flows, both domestic and external, to the banking sector and the rest of the private sector, but the external capital accounts are still functioning for the sovereigns and for the remaining creditworthy borrowers. But that should not be taken for granted, even for the US with its extra protection layer from the status of the US dollar as the world’s leading reserve currency. A large fiscal stimulus from a government without fiscal credibility could be the trigger for a ’sudden stop’.
Eesh. Just. Eesh. Chickens, meet roost.