Imbalances? What Imbalances?
A Dissenting View
It is commonplace to link neoclassical economics to 18th- or 19th-century physics and its notion of equilibrium, of a pendulum once disturbed eventually coming to rest. Likewise, an economy subjected to an exogenous shock seeks equilibrium through the stabilizing market forces unleashed by the invisible hand. The metaphor can be applied to virtually every sphere of economics: from micro markets for fish that are traded spot, to macro markets for something called labor, and on to complex financial markets in synthetic collateralized debt obligations—CDOs. Guided by invisible hands, supplies balance demands and markets clear. Armed with metaphors from physics, the economist has no problem at all extending the analysis across international borders to traded commodities, to what are euphemistically called capital flows, and on to currencies themselves. Certainly there is a price, somewhere, somehow, that will balance supply and demand. The orthodox economist is sure that if we just get the government out of the way, the market will do the dirty work. The heterodox economist? Well, she is less sure. The market might not work. It needs a bit of coaxing. Imbalances can persist. Market forces can be rather impotent. The visible hand of government can hasten the move toward balance.
Orthodox economists as well as most heterodox economists see the Global Financial Crisis as a consequence of domestic and global imbalances. The most common story blames the US Federal Reserve for excessive monetary ease that spurred borrowing, and the US fiscal and trade imbalances for a surplus of liquidity sloshing around global financial markets. Looking to the specific problems in Euroland, the imbalances are attributed to profligate Mediterraneans. The solution is to restore global balance, which requires some combination of higher exchange rates for the Chinese, reduction of US trade deficits, and Teutonic fiscal discipline in the United States, the UK, and Japan, as well as on the periphery of Europe.
This paper takes an alternative view, following the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley, combined with the modern money theory (MMT) approach derived from the work of Innes, Knapp, Keynes, Lerner, and Minsky. The problem is not one of financial imbalance, but rather one of an imbalance of power. There is too much power in the hands of the financial sector, money managers, the predator state, and Europe’s center. There is too much privatization and pursuit of the private purpose, and too little use of government to serve the public interest. In short, there is too much neoliberalism and too little democracy, transparency, and accountability of government.