Rana Fourhar of Time Magazine has penned a new book on how Financialisation is destroying US economy. INET has an interview and here is a brief overview of the book by the author herself (thanks to Gulzar for the last link).
America’s economic illness has a name: financialization. It’s an academic term for the trend by which Wall Street and its methods have come to reign supreme in America, permeating not just the financial industry but also much of American business. It includes everything from the growth in size and scope of finance and financial activity in the economy; to the rise of debt-fueled speculation over productive lending; to the ascendancy of shareholder value as the sole model for corporate governance; to the proliferation of risky, selfish thinking in both the private and public sectors; to the increasing political power of financiers and the CEOs they enrich; to the way in which a “markets know best” ideology remains the status quo. Financialization is a big, unfriendly word with broad, disconcerting implications.
University of Michigan professor Gerald Davis, one of the pre-eminent scholars of the trend, likens financialization to a “Copernican revolution” in which business has reoriented its orbit around the financial sector. This revolution is often blamed on bankers. But it was facilitated by shifts in public policy, from both sides of the aisle, and crafted by the government leaders, policymakers and regulators entrusted with keeping markets operating smoothly. Greta Krippner, another University of Michigan scholar, who has written one of the most comprehensive books on financialization, believes this was the case when financialization began its fastest growth, in the decades from the late 1970s onward. According to Krippner, that shift encompasses Reagan-era deregulation, the unleashing of Wall Street and the rise of the so-called ownership society that promoted owning property and further tied individual health care and retirement to the stock market.
The changes were driven by the fact that in the 1970s, the growth that America had enjoyed following World War II began to slow. Rather than make tough decisions about how to bolster it (which would inevitably mean choosing among various interest groups), politicians decided to pass that responsibility to the financial markets. Little by little, the Depression-era regulation that had served America so well was rolled back, and finance grew to become the dominant force that it is today.
The shifts were bipartisan, and to be fair they often seemed like good ideas at the time; but they also came with unintended consequences. The Carter-era deregulation of interest rates—something that was, in an echo of today’s overlapping left-and right-wing populism, supported by an assortment of odd political bedfellows from Ralph Nader to Walter Wriston, then head of Citibank—opened the door to a spate of financial “innovations” and a shift in bank function from lending to trading. Reaganomics famously led to a number of other economic policies that favored Wall Street. Clinton-era deregulation, which seemed a path out of the economic doldrums of the late 1980s, continued the trend. Loose monetary policy from the Alan Greenspan era onward created an environment in which easy money papered over underlying problems in the economy, so much so that it is now chronically dependent on near-zero interest rates to keep from falling back into recession.
This sickness, not so much the product of venal interests as of a complex and long-term web of changes in government and private industry, now manifests itself in myriad ways: a housing market that is bifurcated and dependent on government life support, a retirement system that has left millions insecure in their old age, a tax code that favors debt over equity. Debt is the lifeblood of finance; with the rise of the securities-and-trading portion of the industry came a rise in debt of all kinds, public and private. That’s bad news, since a wide range of academic research shows that rising debt and credit levels stoke financial instability. And yet, as finance has captured a greater and greater piece of the national pie, it has, perversely, all but ensured that debt is indispensable to maintaining any growth at all in an advanced economy like the U.S., where 70% of output is consumer spending. Debt-fueled finance has become a saccharine substitute for the real thing, an addiction that just gets worse. (The amount of credit offered to American consumers has doubled in real dollars since the 1980s, as have the fees they pay to their banks.)
This is hardly a new point. Similar points have been made in the past as well.
The important thing is that despite several of these articles/books, hardly anything has changed. Financialisation continues to rise. Reallocation of resources to financial sector keeps growing. Finance continues to be the top choice for most graduates irrespective of their education. Finance continues to pay the highest salaries which no sector can match. The media continues to be surrounded by news pertaining to the sector. And so on. The list is endless.
This is not just limited to America alone but seems to be rising across the world. If this has happened in America and developed world it still makes sense as they seem to have ran out of growth options so are just busy speculating/trading. But why is financialisation picking in developing world which have a long way to go?
Take the case of India. Financialisation is rising big time here as well. The so called financial markets play a major role in media, government decisions and people’s minds as well. There is just enormous pressure from this sector in all walks. Finance has become the most sought after sector with pay packages no other sector can match. Any policy or action is seen as good enough only if it satisfies majority of the market players. A rise or fall in stock index is all it takes to get a sense of whether things are going right or wrong in Indian economy.
In a way financialisation of world economy is emerging as a serious challenge. It has narrowed the variables that matter to human life considerably. Just look at a few macro variables and balance sheets is all that matters…