a speech in August 1998: “In Asia, the problems related to ‘crony capitalism’ are at the heart of this crisis, and that is why structural reforms must be a major part” of the International Monetary Fund’s solution.
The American critique of the Asian crisis was correct. The countries involved were nominally capitalist but needed major reforms to create accountability and competitive markets.
So I’d like to invite the finance ministers of Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia — whom I and other Americans deemed emblems of crony capitalism in the 1990s — to stand up and denounce American crony capitalism today.
Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.
The upshot is that financial institutions boost leverage in search of supersize profits and bonuses.
Banks pretend that risk is eliminated because it’s securitized. Rating agencies accept money to issue an imprimatur that turns out to be meaningless. The system teeters, and then the taxpayer rushes in to bail bankers out. Where’s the accountability?
It’s not just rabble-rousers at Occupy Wall Street who are seeking to put America’s capitalists on a more capitalist footing.
“Structural change is necessary,” Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said in an important speech last month that discussed many of these themes. He called for more curbs on big banks, possibly including trimming their size, and he warned that otherwise we’re on a path of “increasingly frequent, complex and dangerous financial breakdowns.”
Likewise, Mohamed El-Erian, another pillar of the financial world who is the chief executive of Pimco, one of the world’s largest money managers, is sympathetic to aspects of the Occupy movement. He told me that the economic system needs to move toward “inclusive capitalism” and embrace broad-based job creation while curbing excessive inequality.
“You cannot be a good house in a rapidly deteriorating neighborhood,” he told me. “The credibility and the fair functioning of the neighborhood matter a great deal. Without that, the integrity of the capitalist system will weaken further.”