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FT: Seeds of Its Own Destruction

Author: Martin Wolf, Distinguished Visiting Fellow for International Economics
March 8, 2009

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Another ideological god has failed. The assumptions that ruled policy and politics over three decades suddenly look as outdated as revolutionary socialism.

“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” Thus quipped Ronald Reagan, hero of US conservatism. The remark seems ancient history now that governments are pouring trillions of dollars, euros and pounds into financial systems.

“Governments bad; deregulated markets good”: how can this faith escape unscathed after Alan Greenspan, pupil of Ayn Rand and predominant central banker of the era, described himself, in congressional testimony last October, as being “in a state of shocked disbelief” over the failure of the “self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity”?

In the west, the pro-market ideology of the past three decades was a reaction to the perceived failure of the mixed-economy, Keynesian model of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The move to the market was associated with the election of Reagan as US president in 1980 and the ascent to the British prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher the year before. Little less important was the role of Paul Volcker, then chairman of the Federal Reserve, in crushing inflation.

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