A social democratic response to the crisis must begin by reasserting the crucial role of the state in risk management. If individuals are to have security of employment, income and wealth, governments must establish the necessary legal and economic framework and enforce its rules. The fact that government is the ultimate risk manager both justifies and necessitates action to mitigate the grotesque inequalities in both opportunities and outcomes that characterise unrestrained capitalism and were increasingly resurgent in the era of economic liberalism.
I might have some differences at the margins, but I wouldn’t dissent from Quiggin’s broad policy approach. Where I would sound a note of caution, however, is his assumption that a restructured economy will necessarily entail a shrunken financial sector. I’m not sure that’s true. As I observed with respect to the recent G20 summit meeting, a note of complacency has crept into discussions of the GFC. There is an apparent assumption that a bit of government prodding to get credit markets moving again, a little more regulation, and a bit of symbolic Wall Street bashing will do the trick. Then business can resume more or less as normal. That assumption, or assumptions like it, are colouring the recent partial revival in equity markets. It’s being driven also by the Obama administration’s actions (and inaction) – controversies over AIG bonuses aside, there’s a distinct sense that whatever Wall Street wants, it will get – including a revival of trading in credit default swaps and other derivatives.
Neo-liberalism may be a rhetorical dead dodo, but the unwillingness of the Obama administration to actually seize the moment of crisis to bring about ‘change we can believe in’ suggests that the practices which led to the current baleful situation may be only in temporary eclipse. In retrospect, the appointments of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers were probably a sign of the times, and more so the thinking that underlay those selections. Gravely disappointing.