A Macroeconomic Regime for the 21st Century: Towards a New Economic Order
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Author links open overlay panel Dmitry Medvedev. Under a Creative Commons license. Abstract This paper addresses Russian economic development and economic policy in — JEL classification E Keywords economic policy. Recommended articles Citing articles 0. Peer review under responsibility of Voprosy Ekonomiki. Production and hosting by Elsevier B.
The former could not exist without the latter. The financial crisis of revealed this dualism on a truly world historic scale. Reading the macroeconomic imbalances in the early s, pundits imagined that the crisis would come in the form of a meltdown between the US and China.
They imagined a geoeconomic-geopolitical crisis that would end with the collapse of the creditworthiness of the US government. Unsurprisingly, the crisis inspired much talk of a new Bretton Woods. The UN appointed Joe Stiglitz to head a commission. But neither proposal gained traction in the face of increasingly assertive management of the crisis by the US authorities.
The actual crisis response to involved a remarkable ad hoc fusion of business and state authority. If there ever has been an executive committee of the American bourgeoisie it convened on the afternoon of 13 October at the Treasury building to coordinate the distribution of TARP funds for the recapitalization of the major US banks. It was both a remarkably effective crisis-fighting measure and an astonishingly blatant example of the impossibility of upholding the conventional norms of regular, law-bound governance in the face of the crisis.
TARP had passed on the second attempt festooned with promises to assist homeowners and guarantee congressional oversight. Now the Fed and the Treasury, headed by a former investment banker, were redirecting those funds as part of a recapitalization effort that was comprehensive in scope but actually designed to rescue the ailing commercial banking giants, Citigroup and Bank of America.
The Federal government was an essential but reluctant shareholder. When the going gets rough, as it inevitably does, order goes out the window. Behind them stood the great power cabal of the G20 leaders summit. In its new format the G20 convened for the first time in DC in November It is a self-constituted ad hoc grouping that in questions of economic governance has sidelined the UN. The membership of 20 was picked on the basis of GDP and population statistics in the late s, by second tier officials working for the governments of US and Germany as part of the G8 forum.
This group of 30 of the largest banks have been placed under the direct supervision of regulators and central banks. Their accounts and business models are subject to a negotiated form of direct supervision. In a striking confirmation of the basic prediction of Frankfurt School political economy, financial governance post-crisis has thus come to rely on an unmediated relationship between national central banks, global regulators and an oligopolistic cluster of giant transnational banks. As Scheuermann shows, faced with the disintegration of legality under conditions of oligopolistic capitalism, Franz Neumann declared that the rule of law embodied normative values — generality, transparency, predictability etc — that progressives should defend.
In the context of the capital labour struggles, which were at the heart of Frankfurt school jurisprudence, this makes perfect sense. The problem posed by the crisis of , however, was different. What was at stake was not the long-term balance of class forces but a sudden circulatory collapse of the global economy. Faced with this kind of financial heart attack, the question of governance appears in a rather different light. Indeed, it is tempting to postulate an inverse relationship between the effectiveness of intervention and the commitment to order.
Where it was conducted in the form of ad hoc and unprincipled emergency medicine, the crisis response was effective.
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The more closely intertwined the political and economic elite the more rapid the response and the smaller the collateral damage. Where elites were less tightly articulated, as in the eurozone, and there was an effort to employ a rule-bound approach the results were disastrous. To a degree this comparison of American and European approaches to the crisis is unfair. One should allow for the fact that coordination problems are bound to be more serious in a complex organism like the EU.
But the point nevertheless holds. As Keynes recognized , a general theory of capitalist governance must be able to account both for conditions of stability in which law like behavior is the norm, and moments of crisis, when ad hoc intervention is called for. To recognize only the former and not the latter is a recipe for disaster.
It is relatively easy to conceive of how to politicize rule-bound systems. One can debate the underlying norms, procedures etc. The question of how to politicize ad hocery is more tricky. What are the norms to apply in an exceptional situation?
One possible opening is to highlight and to exploit the fissures in ideological conformity that the crisis produces. The crisis of and its aftermath exposed the fact that many if not all of the taken for granted assumptions of economic policy in the s were poorly founded. Perhaps most spectacularly the IMF has abandoned its rigid advocacy of the absolutely unfettered mobility of capital. The Bank of International Settlements has become the source of a critique of standard international macroeconomics that points the attention of policy-makers squarely at transnational banks as key concerns of financial stability policy.
And from there the net is widening to take in asset managers too.
Piggybacking on such technocratic discourse may seem like a poor substitute for genuinely radical politics. But another lessons of the crisis of and after are the limits of such politics under conditions of extremity. It is no doubt a third best option, but the alternatives may be even worse. Of course, not everyone agrees with this skepticism about the notion of economic order, not everyone is as willing to give up the Bretton Woods and what it stands for.
Bretton Woods Agreement and System Definition
The most thought-provoking reaction to my Foreign Policy piece came from Diem25 the pan-European party for which Yanis Varoufakis is the charismatic figurehead. In fact, it was the second of two essays by Adler and Varoufakis in the Guardian making the case for a return to the postwar moment. What is to be done? The answer that Adler and Varoufakis give in their Guardian pieces is that the Bretton Woods institutions — the IMF and the World Bank — must not only be protected against the depredations of the Trump presidency. Adler and Varoufakis argue that the Bretton Woods institutions offer the left a valuable antitdote to provincialism.
In fact, Adler and Varoufakis argue, this would involve returning them to their original progressive purpose. The Diem25 pair are keen on the heritage of mid-century progressivism.
They call for a Green New Deal. They want to return to and restage the battle over the future of the international financial system. This time they argue that a truly global, post-American order should prevail. A digital currency issued by the IMF should form the anchor of a new global currency order. Adler and Varoufakis want to mobilize its resources for a giant spending program to decarbonize the world economy.
All of this sounds attractive. But what, one must surely ask, distinguishes it from the voluntarism of the Davos crowd and their calls for a global gathering to shape globalization 4. The Diem25 authors invoke the language of political mobilization. And their movement has done an impressive job gathering 98, members.
But they are spread thinly across Europe. In May Diem25 will do well if it gains representation in the European parliament. This is hardly a political platform from which to mount the global institutional restructuring they propose.
Even assuming that Diem25 could gain some purchase on European policy, what bearing will that have on the politics of the IMF and the World Bank at this moment? Precisely because they are global, the main shareholder in the Bretton Woods institutions is the United States and the key issue of the present with regard to the governance of these institutions are not European calls for their democratization, but greater representation for China and other emerging markets, the concerns of whose policy-makers are hardly likely to align neatly with those of Diem This is not out of the question, of course.
In Adults in the Room Varoufakis described his efforts to cut a deal with Beijing to relieve financial pressure on Greece in But he also describes how that tactical maneuver ended in disappointment when Berlin put its foot down. Neither Beijing nor Moscow wanted to antagonize Berlin over the politics of the Eurozone.
Already in during the most critical phase of the Eurozone crisis, the German central bank made clear its opposition to financial experiments based on the IMF. With the full weight of the rest of the G20 upon her, Merkel stood firm and vetoed any attempt to leverage IMF resources for a Eurozone bailout fund. The alternatives — the technocratic status quo and the strongman unilateralism that has emerged to challenge it — are simply unacceptable.
Of course it is not the job of politicians to offer realistic narratives of the likely future. In this sense it is not their job to be realistic. Their task is to rally support around visions of how things might be different. The difficulty is to distinguish it from wishful thinking.
In the end the more important criticism of Adler and Varoufakis is not that they are unrealistic in their ambition, but that they are unrealistic in their conception of where power lies in the global system.
Working Papers & Publications
Once more the problem is their focus on Bretton Woods. For the Diem25 authors as for Schwab and the WEF, Bretton Woods serves as a cipher for an imaginary moment of historic purpose and decision. It is a Punctum Archimedis — the point from which they imagine applying a lever to change the world.
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But this is a fiction. Nor is it an innocent one. It reflects a deeply rooted unitary and centralistic vision of sovereign power. To move forward we need not only to rally substantial political forces and figure out international coalitions that have some chance of actually exerting leverage. We also need a theory of power that allows us to think beyond the sovereigntist mirage of Bretton Woods. Late 20 th and early 21 st -century social theory offers us various alternatives but the most obvious is Foucauldian. Where progressive politics needs to be directed, on this view, would not be towards counterposing some new order to the anarchy of capital.