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The Great Crisis and the American Response

James K. Galbraith

Economics Public Policy Brief Archive from Levy Economics Institute

Abstract: The global abatement of the inflationary climate of the past three decades, combined with continuing financial instability, helped to promote the worldwide holding of U.S. dollar reserves as a cushion against financial instability outside the United States, with the result that, for the United States itself, this was a period of remarkable price stability and reasonably stable economic expansion. For the most part, the economics profession viewed these events as a story of central bank credibility, fiscal probity, and accelerating technological change coupled with changing demands on the labor market, creating a model of self-stabilizing free markets and hands-off policy makers motivated by doing the right thing - what Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith calls "the grand illusion of the Great Moderation." A dissenting line of criticism focused on the stagnation of real wages, the growth of deficits in trade and the current account, and the search for new markets. This view implied that a crisis would occur, but that it would result from a rejection of U.S. financial hegemony and a crash of the dollar, with the euro and the European Union (EU) the ostensible beneficiaries. A third line of argument was articulated by two figures with substantially different perspectives on the Keynesian tradition: Wynne Godley and Hyman P. Minsky. Galbraith discusses the approaches of these Levy distinguished scholars, including Godley’s correlation of government surpluses and private debt accumulation and Minsky's financial stability hypothesis, as well as their influence on the responses of the larger economic community. Galbraith himself argues the fundamental illusion of viewing the U.S. economy through the free-market prism of deregulation, privatization, and a benevolent government operating mainly through monetary stabilization. The real sources of American economic power, he says, lie with those who manage and control the public-private sectors - especially the public institutions in those sectors - and who often have a political agenda in hand. Galbraith calls this the predator state: a state that is not intent upon restructuring the rules in any idealistic way but upon using the existing institutions as a device for political patronage on a grand scale. And it is closely aligned with deregulation.

Date: 2010-06
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cba, nep-fdg, nep-his and nep-pke
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