December 13, 2015

Torn up tracks

By Saker Nusseibeh

A few years ago, when the 300 Club was first established, the financial community still held onto a belief that the economic and financial tools traditionally used for decision making would be more than adequate to navigate the global economy’s return to safe harbour and rebuild the financial system. Professional investors and central bankers alike still looked to modern economic theory, including, Keynesianism and the Chicago School among other strands, and the ‘scientific’ modality of the financial theory it generated, from Markowitz and Sharpe onwards, to chart the map to the future.

That the model failed in 2008 is beyond dispute.

The Monetarist response of unprecedented monetary easing by central banks to the crises was in all probability the correct response for averting a financial and economic collapse. But it, together with the Keynesian response that now is the wrong time to be worrying about government debt, also involved a massive debt transfer mechanism from the failed financial system to ordinary citizens. This raises fundamental concerns about the systemic moral hazard embedded in the current economic world view. In turn that should lead to citizens questioning the purpose of the financial system, and to ‘professionals’ questioning the efficacy of the ‘traditional’ view of economics and the financial theory built on it.

Moreover, the 2008 crises have resulted in a world locked in a cycle of super-low interest rates, underwritten by central bankers’ put on interest rates above 3%. This places inordinate strain on the concept of discount models, and calculating future liabilities. Even seven years on, there is still a question mark over the degree of possible future growth in developed economies as many still flirt with deflation.

Among other things, the economic result in developed economies, so far, has been an increasing disparity between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ which is beginning to stress the political fabric of society.

At the same time, Malthusianism has re-emerged, not so much in the classical sense of a fear of a strain on resources by increasing populations as a product of economic growth (if anything the problem in developed economies and China is an ageing population – which is creating its own political tension), but by a growing realisation that the current carbon- based economic growth model, if unchecked, will in all probability present a real danger to our species and our environment.

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