Skidelsky on Kenyes and Capitalism’s Crisis

There is a thought-provoking cover piece in the current issue of Prospect by Keynes biographer Robert Skidelsky on where we go from here. A snippet:

The enquiry must start with economics. If the case for the deregulated market system is intellectually sound, it will be very hard to change. Free- marketeers claim, contrary to Soros, that the crisis is the fault of governments. US money was kept too cheap for too long after the technology bubble burst in 2000 and the attacks of 11th September 2001. The market was temporarily fooled by the government. This is a shaky defence, to say the least: if the market is so easily fooled, it cannot be very efficient.

One can also argue that the problem is not with the market system, but the fact that markets are too few and inflexible. This seems to be the view of Yale economist Robert J Shiller. He likens the financial system to an early aircraft. Just because it is prone to crash doesn’t mean we should stop trying to perfect it. Shiller claims that new derivative products will soon be able to insure homeowners against the risk of house prices going down. To my mind, this is an example of trying to cure a state of inebriation by having another whiskey. There are two things wrong with it. First, if financial innovation is, in fact, the route to greater market efficiency, the financial system would have been getting more stable in the last 25 years of explosive financial engineering. Instead it has become more volatile. Second, the assumption that, given enough innovation, uncertainty can be reduced to risk, is just wrong. There will never be sufficient knowledge to enable contracts to be made to cover all future contingencies.

Read the whole thing.