An idiot’s overview of why Western capitalism is crashing

Making the investment needed on the necessary scale would have meant that the investing Rich World nations would not have grown so rapidly and their citizens would have had to accept a little less in the way of ever rising material standards of living, but that would have been a small price to pay for giving Western capitalism a sustainable future and all of our children wherever they live the prospect of a future worth having. (Whereas today they do not have a future worth having).

Instead of starting down the road to making capitalism work for the benefit of all in global terms, the system’s Western managers opted to keep things going by flooding the Rich World with credit cards to enable its citizens to live beyond their means and get deeper and deeper into debt. “I need” was replaced with “I want”. (My working class father used to say to me, “Boy, if we can’t afford it, we don’t look in the shop window.”)

There was bound to come a time when Rich World citizens simply could not afford to go on buying on the scale needed to keep Western consumer capitalism going.

Then, partly to fuel debt-driven consumer and government spending, the greed-driven, totally irresponsible bankers drove the final nail into Western capitalism’s coffin by playing their leveraging games, producing debt instruments with a face value of hundreds of trillions of U.S. dollars but which were not backed and supported by real assets. (A good friend of mine was the senior risk manager for one of the world’s biggest banks headquartered in London. She told me that for five years she and her team tried to warn top management that leveraging with Mickey Mouse instruments was creating a catastrophe, but top management didn’t want to listen. It was focused only on bonuses).

If Jeremy Clarkson had said that banking chiefs should have been taken out and shot in front of their families, I would have smiled and said to myself, “If only.”

And I would not have bailed out the banks with taxpayers’ money. I would have let them go bust. (The first rule of capitalism is supposed to be that if you get it wrong you go bust). But before making that decision public I (as prime minister) would have said to my people something like the following. “Don’t panic. The money we would have to put into bailing out reckless and irresponsible banks will instead be used to create a new national bank which, rather like the High Street banks of the old days, will exist only to serve the needs of their customers.”

There’s no question that banking chiefs were short-sighted, greedy and stupid, but… They were not the architects of what future historians will call the crash of Western capitalism. They, the architects, were the politicians who deregulated the banks and financial markets. The leading architect was Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. On 27 October 1986, she initiated the “Big Bang” in the City of London, the sudden deregulation of the banks and financial markets. In the name of “financial liberalism” she truly believed that markets would work better, more efficiently, if they were free of rules and restrictions. In her view millions of decisions made every day by traders in a free market would be better for all of us than decisions that had to be made with reference to rules and regulations drawn up by committees of the great and the good.

Though I might be exaggerating to make a point and may be misrepresenting her to some extent, she seemed to be saying, “We need not bother too much with our old industries and ways of creating wealth, the banks and the markets will do it for us.”

Events were to prove that she could not have been more naive and more wrong, but before they did American presidents starting with Ronald Reagan had followed her lead.

My understanding of the situation today can be summarized as follows. The debts of Western governments are so big that no Western country will be able to generate the growth and so the money needed to repay them. On that basis I can see only two scenarios for the future.

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