FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Crew of Incompetents

by DEAN BAKER

The world is suffering from the worst downturn since the Great Depression. The crisis has left tens of millions unemployed in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. The huge baby boomer generation in the United States, now on the edge of retirement, has seen much of its wealth destroyed with the collapse of the housing bubble.

It would be difficult to imagine a worse economic disaster. Prior periods of bad performance, like the inflation ridden seventies, look like mild flurries compared to the blizzard of bad economic news in which we are now enmeshed.

None of this is new. People don’t need economists to tell them that times are bad. However, what the public may not recognize is that the same people who caused this disaster are still calling the shots. Specifically, there has been little change in personnel and no acknowledgment of error at the central banks whose incompetence was responsible for the crisis.

Remarkably, this crew of incompetents is still claiming papal infallibility, warning governments and the general public that bad things will happen if they are subjected to more oversight. Instead, the central bankers and their accomplices at the IMF are dictating policies to democratically elected governments. Their agenda seems to be the same everywhere, cut back retirement benefits, reduce public support for health care, weaken unions and make ordinary workers take pay cuts.

Given how much they have messed up, it is amazing that these central bankers have the gall to even show their face in public. They are lucky that they still have jobs — and very good paying ones at that. (Many of the boys and girls at the IMF can retire with six figure pensions at the age of 50.) Ordinary workers, like teachers, autoworkers, or custodians, would be fired in a second if they performed as badly as the world’s central bankers.

What was going through their heads when they saw house prices in the United States, the UK, Spain and elsewhere spiral upward with no basis in any of the fundamentals of the housing market? How did they think this bubble would end; did they think that trillions of dollars of housing bubble wealth could just disappear without any impact on the economy. Or, did they think the bubble would never end and that house prices would just continue to go skyward forever?

How about the central bankers who allowed the euro to be imposed on a mix of economies with very little in common and no controlling governmental organization? Did they think that wages and prices would follow the same pattern in Greece and Germany? If not, what adjustment mechanism did they envision once these widely different economies were tied to together in a single currency?

Yes, many of the central bankers are now saying that they knew the euro was a bad idea back when it was established. Some of them even muttered quietly to this effect. But the central bankers and the IMF in 1998 were not making the same bold pronouncements and issuing the same directives to elected governments about structuring the euro zone that they are now doing in telling them to dismantle their welfare states. In other words, these central bankers failed disastrously — why do they still have jobs and why on earth is anyone listening to them?

At the top of the list of villains in this story is the IMF. Its ineptitude managed to reverse the fundamental flows of capital in the world economy. In normal times capital is supposed to flow from wealthy countries with large amounts of capital, like the United States and the European countries, to the developing countries who need capital to fuel their development. Due to the failure of the IMF to establish a workable system of international finance, the flows went in the opposite direction in a huge way. The world’s poor were sending their capital to the United States because the IMF gave them little choice.

It is important to be clear about the responsibility of the central bankers and the IMF for this totally preventable disaster. The first reason is accountability, something that is very important to economists who believe in economics. Economic theory teaches us that if workers are not held accountable for poor work, then they have no incentive to do their jobs well. If the central banker and IMF crew can mess up disastrously and continue to draw their paychecks as though everything is fine, what is their incentive to do better next time?

The other reason why it is important to recognize the responsibility of the central bankers and the IMF for this disaster is so that we don’t continue to take advice from people who apparently don’t have a clue. Before anyone listens to Ben Bernanke, European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, or IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, they should first be forced to tell us when they stopped being wrong about the economy. We cannot afford to let these subprime central bankers control economic policy any longer.

DEAN BAKER is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy and False Profits: Recoverying From the Bubble Economy.

This column was originally published by Huffington Post.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

Dean Baker is a macroeconomist and co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. He previously worked as a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute and an assistant professor at Bucknell University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail