The Global Financial Crisis 10 Years On

Written By: - Date published: 11:19 am, September 11th, 2018 - 32 comments
Categories: capitalism, class war, Economy, Financial markets, International, us politics - Tags:

Ten years ago this week massive financial businesses in the United States started collapsing.

In New Zealand, the Global Financial Crisis was a short term catastrophe that caused many people to lose their jobs, trade to fall, business confidence to plummet, and real fear that we were about to be plunged into the same cruel poverty we had witnessed after the Great Depression of the early 1930s. But it was more.

Ten years after the Global Financial Crisis, the world is rather different. Interest rates are much lower. In most advanced countries since the crisis, real GDP capita growth has been insipid at best.

Global spending and investment appear very cautious, and seem likely to remain so for some time given the overhang of debt before the crisis. In advanced economies, deleveraging the private sector appears to have stared, but it will take a generation. Very cautious households are a large part of the slow and fragile recovery. They have been hit hard by sustained labour market weakness, and in the U.S. and some other advanced economies this has been compounded by loss of housing wealth and balance sheet weakness. It is only now, in 2018, that we are seeing – still unevenly – a full throated recovery in the U.S.

A decade later since these events, very few people are financially stronger.

New Zealand has since 2008 also experienced a city-levelling earthquake, major drought, another earthquake snapping the nations’ transport spine and damaging another city, and our two largest local businesses in significant trouble (Fletchers is known, Fonterra result on this Thursday).

But the GFC still stands out.

Now, after 9 years in which there was no active economic management or state assistance as a development partner in the economy or in society, few believe things are going to get better for them.

There’s an economic historian called Charles Kindleberger who did a great book if you’re keen on a history of financial disasters called Manias, Panics and Crashes (1978). Roughly, it goes, new financial techniques always overreach themselves, and always burst.

Marxist economists love crises because economic crisis is supposed to be where revolutions start that will overcome capitalism and usher in a communist order.

My personal favourite, though, is Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs, which shows how after each crisis, the state grows in power and in regulatory force, and retains and constantly ratchets up its power even when the crisis recedes. What we resolutely did not see, however, after this GFC crisis, was a return of the Keynsian state in which huge borrowing takes places in order to support damaged people and damaged lives.

Instead, particular large financial and insurance companies were bailed out, and huge quantities of fresh money were pumped into the system which is known as quantitative easing.

Sometimes what gets lost is the long term damage. The families whose house equity was destroyed when they lost their job and could not afford the mortgage will be affected for generations because there is no equity to hand down. That’s the equity that could have supported a child or two through university, or got them a deposit into a starter-home: gone.

Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff did a history of financial crises spanning eight centuries. From their work the lesson was clear: recessions initiated by financial crises tend to cut deeper and produce a long “hangover” period of slow growth.

Instead of the post-1929 Depression, New Zealand and much of the developed world mirrored the late 1870s to 1890s with a similar long stagnation.

That is exactly what we still see in much of the developed world over the last decade – particularly the E.U.

The crisis of 2008 was not sufficient to smash institutions or make fresh new ones. Ratings agencies are still doing the same old thing, as are mortgage brokers, as are governments. Regulations of financial institutions remain weak here. Australia had a massive and public banking investigation, where so many of the cruelties of the finance industry were laid bare. Barely a peep here. Apart from greater assurance that banks will not fall over, little has changed here either.

New Zealand will continue to have external financial crises and international trade crises, and local environmental catastrophes. We need a state with the foresight and the capacity to prepare and withstand them. We don’t have it yet. We need a business community who can prepare for their own resilience instead of being bailed out. We need a society with the strength to do the same. We sure don’t have either of those. We remain, most of us, so brittle that we couldn’t afford a month without the pay of a good job.

Some, like conservative historian Niall Ferguson has said, say that money drives the course of history.

More accurately, as the GFC showed us, it is the history of debt and the force of its collected instruments to repay debt.

But even if there really were a Great Jubilee and all debts were wiped off the face of the earth, what the legacy of responding to the GFC with a long term mismanagement by those in power has caused, is a strong sense something is missing.

What is missing is: people have simply lost belief that things will get better for them.

32 comments on “The Global Financial Crisis 10 Years On”

  1. Bill 1

    What is missing is: people have simply lost belief that things will get better for them.

    I think that goes in tandem with believing things will get worse. And that’s where liberalism gets squeezed between two opposing reactions.

    On the one hand, there’s the push towards social democracy (often mislabeled as “socialist” – Corbyn, the Progressive’s challenge to “accepted” Democrats in the run up to the mid-terms. Melenchon, SNP, Podemos, Die Linke etc)

    On the other is the likes of the Swedish “we need to take a breather” on immigration Democrats and whatever.

    What I find interesting is that the ‘squeezed’ liberalism always talks up the “threat” from the likes of the Swedish Democrats (as though that will send voters flooding back to the safe arms of parties wedded to liberal orthodoxy), while it relentlessly hammers the social democratic alternatives as being irrelevant and stupid.

    The next phase of this merry-go-round will be the (finally) triumphant social democratic politicians looking to convince everyone that social democracy is the long term answer to societal woes. It isn’t. It’s only a good stop-gap.

    • Nic the NZer 2.1

      The elementary errors, fudged results and dubious data manipulation in that paper should hardly have undermined Reinhart and Rogoff’s credibility (any further). They already gave that away by not considering the causality and therefore that high government debt and/or slow economic growth may obviously follow an economic crisis. They ignored causality entirely and decided to conclude instead that high levels of government debt cause slow economic growth. Then they whipped around publicizing their fantasy conclusions and various governments responded by cutting spending and substantially damaged their economic recoveries.

  2. tc 3

    Can you blame them ? The system is like a leaky tyre that goes down and gets more money to keep it up rather than a new tyre.

    We need a new way rather than this fractional reserve inevitability. People aren’t stupid, the games rigged with the socialised losses from the ‘too big to fails’ feeding the cycle knowing they’ll be bailed out.

    • greywarshark 4.1

      The link that Pat has put up at 4 is Rod Oram and he is especially incisive and thoughtful and all TS who want to be informed will find it valuable info.

  3. Dennis Frank 5

    “Global debt has now passed its 2008 level — US$250 trillion at last count.”
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12120975

    “today’s expansion, currently in its 111th month (approaching twice the 58-month average length of post-1945 expansions), has gone on long enough, the contraction probably will begin with the annual US budget deficit exceeding US$1 trillion.”
    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12109580

    “Publicly held US government debt has tripled in a decade.” “Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Federal Reserve, says fiscal policy is on an “unsustainable path,”… The word “unsustainable” in fiscal rhetoric is akin to “unacceptable” in diplomatic parlance, where it usually refers to a situation soon to be accepted.”

    “Despite today’s shrill discord between the parties, the political class is more united by class interest than it is divided by ideology.” Damn right!

  4. Stuart Munro 6

    It’s an interesting subject – not least because a precipitous decline of any local sector is wont to affect so many of us. What we don’t seem to see from the feckless financiers of Treasury is the kind of measures that would increase the robustness of our economy – greater diversity, provision for longer contract or employment periods, recognition that casualization in as small a market as ours can result in sector-crippling skill losses.

    There’s plenty of concern – but the political will to move away from the worst aspects of the neoliberal model seems to have been successfully suppressed by well-paid morons like Garner and Hosking.

    • Jum 6.1

      And when we don’t have people-centred activists in the public eye to call these cretins to account for their fakery and their absolute hatred for working people that actually make this country run, unlike those wasters of the public purse, who have we got to blame – not only ourselves but those that have the money and the truths to take back the communication lines with the public. i.e. public figures with the ability to tell the story of hope and future.

      Yet they’re lost in translation and sooner, rather than later, people will just ignore the better part of their humanity and go for the greed.

      We already know what political dark web controls that in NZ.

  5. Blazer 7

    ‘What we resolutely did not see, however, after this GFC crisis, was a return of the Keynsian state in which huge borrowing takes places in order to support damaged people and damaged lives.

    Seems to me we did see huge borrowing.The Key/English administration borrowed more in 7 years than the cumulative total of NZ’s entire history.

    And got knighted for it.

    • Ad 7.1

      Their first big step in response to the GFC was the large personal tax cuts for the rich.

      The big borrowing kicked in to respond tot he Christchurch earthquake rebuilds.

      • Nic the NZer 7.1.1

        Most of the ‘borrowing’ was automatically caused because the economy stopped paying so much tax when activity and employment dropped. In response to these changes in government income its costs often increase and it has limited discretion over its spending. Actively implementing government austerity would have risked exacerbating any economic recession, causing tax income to fall harder (and it did in many countries where this was tried).

        The main implication of this should be that the borrowing profile would have been similar regardless of who was in office at the time.

        • Ad 7.1.1.1

          Well, I’d challenge you on that.

          We had a lukewarm government from 2008. They were neither ‘actively implementing government austerity’ nor were they an active developmental state.

          And you can see the kind of government we could have had that would lead us through the impact of the GFC, because it’s the kind of government that we have now.

          A different kind of government in late 2008 could have:
          – Stopped the income tax cuts
          – Increased HNZ developments using their books rather than raising public money
          – Not sold the half of the electricity companies
          – Increased public works in other areas to soak up unemployment
          – Rapidly implemented ‘bright line’ tests and first-time mortgage bank percentages to reign mortgage debt in
          – Immediately brought in first year tertiary free policies.
          – Etc
          You can run a full counterfactual, because this is roughly what it looks like now.

          Some of the policies would have increased the government budget, some would have increased consumer spending and GST tax, and also increased other government income.

          So no, yo don’t need too much imagination to see an alternative scenario in which there was quite a different government debt position as a result of reacting to the GFC.

          • Nic the NZer 7.1.1.1.1

            Is that right.

            So real world example. As you will know Australia avoided recession entirely by implementing a broad tax cut (and benefiting from export boom). Never the less here is a link demonstrating government revenue falling sharply and expenditure rising sharply just the same.

            https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook45p/DebtPosition

            Another thing is Australia didn’t reign in mortgage debt at the same time (they extended subsidies to first time buyers in fact), and had they done so this would have reduced spending and required even more stimulus to generate the same path they actually took.

            Now I totally agree that raising GST in revenue neutral exchange for PAYE decreases was probably economically contractionary. And I can suggest numerous policies which would likely have shortened the recession but the example above shortened the recession so much it didn’t record one and the Australian government never the less faced large changes in income and expenditure which were clearly out of its hands.

            • Ad 7.1.1.1.1.1

              In 2009 the National government budget surplus record was -8.64b
              In the 2010 year it cut its income severely by reducing income tax.
              With the tax cuts and the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes, by 2011 its budget deficit was -$13.34b.

              It really thought that providing tax income back to the rich, and weakening the state, would make us all better off.

              They were wrong, and they were wrong in such a way that they had less capacity to deal with Christchurch and successive crises that they would have otherwise.

              And of course, with that combination their government debt went through the roof.

              Now look at the Labour-led governments either side of it.

              Helen Clark government reduced deficit from 2001 -$386m, to $2.8b surplus in 2008. Also reduced public debt from 22.6% of GDP in 2000, to 5.5% in 2008.

              Ardern government spending like there’s no tomorrow, but keeping debt in check and budget already in minor surplus … while also reinventing the developmental state.

              The Key government made the wrong moves, weakened the country’s ability to respond to shocks, and went into major debt.

              The better counterfactual is our own country’s actual experience.

              • Nic the NZer

                As far as it was claimed and modeled the official line remains that increasing GST at the same time as PAYE reductions (and cancelling some expenditure) was fiscally neutral. I didn’t really see any quality analysis which challenged that (though I think it was a pretty stupid economic policy).

                The example I gave demonstrates pretty clearly that even if you can generate enough stimulus to counteract the recession (which would be a success story for any counterfactual you want to raise) you won’t avoid the automatic impacts on the governments own finances.

                Its really easy to understand there is not really such a thing as more ‘smart’ spending because mostly what is going on just follows from the government and economy being on opposite sides of a balance sheet. Most of the issue is the economy decides it now wants to do a bunch of saving of its income (repaying debt), when it does this it either reduces consumption (which is directly part of GDP so falls in this are synonymous with recession) or some other thing needs to provide increased income to it so it can save. Occasionally that may be the external sector, but usually its going to have to be the government, and usually its just going to happen.

                There is an accounting identity related to GDP which shows that, (S – I) = (G – T) + (X – M) and that is true by accounting at all times. NB S is saving, I is investment, G is govt spending, T is tax, X is exports, M in imports
                and the C from GDP doesn’t show up here but counts in GDP as what happens is a net increase in (say) T is subtracted from C and GDP or a net increase in G is added to C and GDP. This is why the government deficit is not really discretionary and should never be a policy target of the government.

                • corodale

                  Well, its a global market. Our productivity hasn’t risen as well as other countries. They use QE, we don’t. I’m agreeing with Nic, it was only ever going to bad like this, and it’s the same story the whole world over. This is the end phase of the fiat-money debt bubble.

                  Hey Nic, if you vote Green, just a quiet word. The party could sure use someone who can talk economics n finance. I could talk to some of my Russian Muslim friends if you want to be sorted with a few solid body guards.

    • Jum 7.2

      Yes, Blazer, and I remember the nats borrowing much more than they needed to at the time, knowing it would put all New Zealanders into debt to those that like weakened countries.

  6. gsays 8

    Thanks advantage for that.
    “Instead, particular large financial and insurance companies were bailed out, and huge quantities of fresh money were pumped into the system which is known as quantitative easing.”

    I heard a cool analogy for QE, how it works best compared with what happened. For maximum effect the billions of $ are taken high up in a chopper and shaken out of a bag to the population.
    Instead what happened was the $ were loaded onto a pallet and delivered to the back door of the banks and financial institutions that caused the mess in the first place.

    • Liberal Realist 8.2

      +100 Exactly!

      Had the currency created from Fed QE been directed at main street as opposed to the banksters the outcome would have been very different.

      Alas the money-go-round is a rigged game and always was. The plebs are there to be milked, and to die as fodder in imperial resource wars.

  7. Ngungukai 9

    Is NZ in a better financial position now than b4 the GFC ?

    We keep hearing how good JK and Bill English were as financial managers and saved us from the GFC ?

    Fact or Fiction ?

    • Stuart Munro 9.1

      Fiction.

      No capacity building – just lots of cheese paring.

    • Nic the NZer 9.2

      “Is NZ in a better financial position now than b4 the GFC ?”

      Probably, prior to the crisis there was a significant financial problem with the finance company sector in NZ. The collapse of this was a cause of the recession in NZ. Since this happened the RBNZ has started regulating this sector.

      “We keep hearing how good JK and Bill English were as financial managers and saved us from the GFC ?”

      The government manages its spending via it’s own institution the RBNZ. As a result of this its borrowing is not risky (and the interest rate on lending to the government is sometimes referred to as the ‘risk free rate of return’). The fact that all this government debt stuff adds up to a largely meaningless game of political charades (at least in countries which operate their own currency) is also the reason you have been presented with the impression that JK and Bill English (and Michael Cullen for that matter) are good financial managers.

  8. Exkiwiforces 10

    But on the other hand we are not too far away from the next big prang either.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-11/global-debt-looms-as-major-risk-ten-years-after-gfc-machin/10230538

    I did see another article saying we won’t be so lucky next time when the next big happens as interest rates are already at record lows worldwide and there is too to easy (QE) money flowing about which is causing record levels of debt worldwide in private and public sectors.

    • Liberal Realist 10.1

      I’m in agreement that there is another market crash on the horizon akin to the GFC of 2008. IMO the next event will surpass 2008 in terms of impact on ordinary people around the world.

      Crystal ball gazing, my pick is the bull market in the US will continue until after the 2020 election cycle in the US. Regardless of which side (of the same coin) takes the executive, the crash will be triggered.

      What I’m saying is I think the next crash will be engineered (by the Fed). All they’ll have to do is raise interest rates slightly more aggressively than they’ve signaled and over leveraged markets will start to drop.

      Then panic will set in, sentiment will drive wave after wave of sell-offs. Those in the know will short the hell out of the most vulnerable stocks etc. etc. Market turmoil will spread across the world, the Chinese markets will tank (due to oodles of shadow banking debt). Central Banks, with no levers to pull will spin on the spot watching unable to act. And so on. Hell it might only take a couple of days for the whole house of cards to collapse!

      Who knows what the final outcome will be? Who knows, perhaps a new system will emerge from the ashes of neo-liberal capitalism? Or more likely, the banksters will start us down the same old tired path of fakery and exploitation.

      • Exkiwiforces 10.1.1

        Yes, I agree the next the big pang is going to be will ugly as the central banks can’t really do anything with low interest rate or with low inflation rates atm, so they have to up something else and that’s to start rising interest rates. But even then most of worlds economies are not in that great of shape once you start looking at the stats and going with past tends it’s even uglier still.

        I have think the 2020- 2025 time fame is about right for the next pang.

  9. Dennis Frank 11

    “The global financial crisis shattered many people’s faith in unregulated markets. However, there has been no corresponding swell in enthusiasm for more active government, partly because its effectiveness has been widely denigrated in recent decades. Max Rashbrooke’s eagerly awaited new book challenges the assumption that government is inefficient or less effective than private markets.”

    “Government for the Public Good: The Surprising Science of Large-Scale Collective Action”, by Max Rashbrooke, published today. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1809/S00115/government-for-the-public-good.htm

    “It outlines how New Zealand could create more ways in which people can intelligently discuss issues and directly shape policy. The book presents evidence that this is not fanciful and is already taking place around the world, creating better governments that are truly fit for the twenty-first century.”

    Max Rashbrooke is a journalist, author and research associate of the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and was a 2015 Winston Churchill Fellow.

  10. Incognito 12

    Nothing much has changed since the GFC, I agree.

    The large Finance and Insurance Institutions still have large slave armies toiling away for them on a daily basis, spending the most precious resource available to man: time. The irony is that this is an untradeable resource; nobody owns is, everybody has it, and though it’s finite it opens up endless possibilities.

    Governments ensure that the large citizen armies don’t rebel and act in precisely confined ways. They also legitimise the existence and actions of the large Finance and Insurance Institutions and act as an arbiter when these institutions are having a scrap with each other or occasionally with a hapless citizen-slave.

    Money (credit & debit) makes the money go around, goes the cliché. This is blatantly untrue; it is people spending their time & energy that makes it all happen.

    People firmly believe they need finance & insurance as well as governments, preferably democratically-elected ones. This is the way the system is set up and how & why people are indoctrinated (conditioned).

    It is imperative for this system’s survival that people are kept in a dream-like state – a reference to a movie comes to mind.

    Nothing much will change any time soon unless people start waking up.

    I’ll cut short my rant here …

    • corodale 12.1

      Well, all the BRICS Plus are selling US bonds, and it can only the the US Fed buying them back. I suspect, even if we do keep on sleeping, heavy breathing in the region of Kurdistan may be enough to crash this train.

  11. R.P Mcmurphy 13

    its all abut the golden rule. he who has the gold makes the rules and thats that.

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