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The long game

Written By: - Date published: 3:20 pm, January 30th, 2009 - 11 comments
Categories: economy, Environment - Tags:

Last night, I heard something worrying. It was Gareth Morgan saying he can’t ‘see through’ this recession; that he can’t see the economic mechanism that will turn things around and get us growing again. He had already dismissed interest rate slashing and stimulus packages as ‘necessary but insufficent’. In the end he resorted to the ‘Hail Mary’ play of international economics: hoping the good old US consumer would start consuming evermore again and once again pull the rest of us out of recession by demanding more of our stuff.

I respect Gareth Morgan. Yes he’s a media whore and I don’t agree with everything he says but at least he’s not one of the neo-liberal dittoheads from the banks, Treasury, the Reserve Bank, and the ‘business sector’ who have been in charge and screwing things up for the last twenty years. Still, I think he’s got it wrong if he thinks a rebound in US consumer demand is going to come along to save us.

Fact is, the US consumer is the largest economic bubble out there. For 60 years, the US has sat at the heart of the world economic system. It’s currency has been the trading currency for oil and the the reserve currency of choice for other countries. Those two factors have contributed to the US dollar being hugely overvalued and interest rates in the US staying lower than they ought to for decades. On the back of this, Americans have been able to get indebted up to their eyeballs and beyond buying more and more from overseas and building up an enormous foreign debt. In return, exporters have had an artificially low currency relative to the US dollar and the billions they have made exporting consumer goods to the US have eventually found their way back to the US consumer as loans – mortgages or credit card debt.

Like any economic bubble, this is all predicated on everything continuing to go right forever. And, right now, things are going very wrong indeed. The odds are not for a US consumer-led recovery but a collapse in US consumption as personal credit dries up, breaking the bubble, sending the dollar crashing with the reverberations felt around the world. Some of the greatest financial minds in the world, led by the likes of Warren Buffet, have been warning that the US dollar bubble is unsustainable for years.

Sure the worst-case scenario may not, probably will not, play out but things have changed. We can not depend on a further inflation of the US consumer bubble to get us out of this mess. And if not that, then what?

It seems clear to me that the way out of this is a fundamental rebuilding of the global economy, the Green New Deal which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is just the latest leader to call for. It won’t be quick and it won’t be cheap but quick and cheap are the mantra of the neo-libs who have failed us. We are in a world where our economic institutions have hit a brick wall as a result of underlying resource constraints. The world cannot continue to supply us with evermore oil, food, fertiliser, water, and be a dump for our evermore of our waste and carbon emissons. We need to start building a global economy where we can become wealthier by using limited resources more effectively and cleverly rather than simply pouring ever greater quantities resources into the system and then dumping them out the other end. That will take leadership with the courage to put doing what is necessary ahead of political expendiency and with the vision for long-term planning. Unfortunately, that’s two things that the world’s leaders, and ours, sorely lack.

11 comments on “The long game”

  1. Pat 1

    The worst case scenario is that history repeats itself again, and out of the worldwide financial meltdown rises a large scale conflict that drags in many countries. In the midst of economic turmoil and suffering it is easy for a strong warmongering leader to emerge who galvanises the disaffected masses, at a time when the world’s policeman (the US) is in a weakened state.

    Such a scenario could arise in Asia, for example. Let’s hope not.

  2. Dare I say it but Morgan is right in that things will never be the same. Humans do need to change lifestyles, there will be less material possessions, less international trade, less need to work, more time for education and community events. It does not sound that bad, but the secret will be to manage the slow down of the pace of life in such a way that lives are not disrupted and security not threatened.

    Some do seem to be hell bent on the idea that increasing consumption is the panacea to this and there is a fixation on increasing GNP.

    In the words of Robert Kennedy,

    “Too much and too long, we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

    “Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

  3. burt 3

    Pat

    We would;

    a) Get over our no nuclear ships policy pretty quickly AND
    b) Curse the short sighted defense spending policies from the last decade.

  4. Ag 4

    If you really want that, then you are going to have to have a revolution on a scale never seen before, involving the abandonment of ordinary US citizens and a bunch of other people losing much of their privileged position in society. It’s all very well to talk about a New Deal, but there are a great many people who will violently resist what Paul Krugman calls “the great contraction” (the equalizing of incomes) that would attend such policies, as it did last time.

  5. bill brown 5

    Yeah burt, let’s have WWIII that’ll solve all our problems.

    By the way,

    you’re a fuckwit.

    IrishBill: settle down.

  6. randal 6

    gareth morgan notwithstanding the only thing that is going to save us is the same thing that has always saved us since time immemorial and that is re-armament. no amount of policy wonking will alter the fact that we are a pimple on the arseend of the world and if we should perish then a new lot would be along shortly to fill in the blanks

  7. deemac 7

    and Gareth Morgan’s qualifications to hold forth on this topic are superior to anyone else’s how exactly? This is the guy who still isn’t sure whether global warming is real – and was daft enough to give a team of researchers open-ended funding to look into it (with researchers, the answer is always “more research is needed”).

  8. BananaLama 8

    Very interesting read, many thanks.

    The way i see it is that materialism will be coming to an abrupt end very shortly, i can’t see any other outcome, we have raped the seas, the land, the air and exterminated half of our biosphere, it just can’t go on for much longer.

    What i fear the most though is how governments and elites will react as they have a tendency to get rather violent once the apple cart starts to tip.

  9. ak 9

    …something worrying. It was Gareth Morgan saying he can’t ‘see through’ this recession

    Aye, Pierco, these craggy brows took a wee shimmy skyward at that admission too: Morgan isn’t one to hyperbolise and is generally on the button. Couple that with the general commentary and the highly uncharacteristic shoulder-shrugging from from the world “elite” at Davos and allow yourself a little frisson of anticipation that we could really be on the cusp of the big one.

    No “worries” but: take a little trip and open the mind. Hop on the Obama train to Possibility and perve at a vanguard nation of staggering inequalities now thirsting for change: a nation more educated and connected than any in history, a polyglot society seething with confidence, expectations, and a billion handguns. Cruise past their banksters’ $35,000 toilets: marvel at the trillions donated from the pockets of the poor to the kings of greed, and watch the uninsured die on the streets. See the body of the Chicago School lying in state; take in the heritage of Haight-Ashbury and drive its whole bankrupt, dessicating state. Then jump a jet to Europe: stop off in Asia and smell the mysterious rose-coloured confidence. Be moved in Africa by the 28,000 babies dying daily, then relive Paris 1968, now showing again, live! and in situ in enhanced technicolour consciousness.

    So Gareth can’t “see through” the recession? Corker. Means a whole new vista might just be waiting out there.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    Yeah. God knows.

    As an entertainment and solace for the masses, and healthy lesson for the liable, I’d like to see one of these placed in the lobby of any and all corporations in receipt of a bailing out. Perhaps as a penance, anyone who recieved more than, say, 10 million last year in pay could reside there for a while and passers by could give them bread. Or poke them with a stick.

  11. GM is a kiwi and in this, that is good. But the need is for more.. though constructively if you please..

    As to Warren Buffett I doubt he was the original complainant.. more likely is Soros.. tho again a good many financial folks have sounded off on the topic..

    For me though the most constructive – he’d be too modest to assent to a mention for it – would be the fellow who said “Solution..? Simple, the most viable answer to this so-called credit boom* is its bust” And getting back to what all people really and truly understand.”

    * my insertion after consultation in which on second thoughts he thought it a better word than his binge.

    Really and truly deserves that greater hope that that the good in enough people will coalescel. Optimistic if you will.

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