A Crew of Incompetents


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.





November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai Park: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability