An irony of today’s world is that capitalism is not allowed to operate but yet whenever a problem occurs it is always capitalism’s fault somehow. The most typical example of this is the conventional wisdom today that the recent financial crisis was due to capitalism taking place in the financial world without sufficient regulation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Besides the fact that there were many regulations, the core of the financial world is based on central planning! The price of money (i.e. the base rate) is decided by the central bank- which is endowed with certain powers by the government- and so is the supply of money through quantitative easing. A capitalist banking system, on the other hand, is a deregulated system and a system with no central bank to distort the price signals. How would this work?
First and foremost, you will have competing base monies – a ‘denationalization of money’ as Hayek argued in 1976. In other words, there would be no national currency. People decide for themselves how they want to make their transactions: some may opt for a commodity based exchange rate like the gold or silver standard (incidentally a pound is called a pound because it used to be equal to a pound of silver); some will opt for foreign currencies; yet others might prefer money printed by certain private institutions (albeit I do not think this would be a particularly popular option) and some might even prefer to barter. This activates the market forces so that the price and supply of money is as close as possible to the equilibrium. Secondly, a deregulated banking system (with an assurance that there will be no bailouts for failed banks) will force the banks to be prudent and selective about those who they lend to and, on the other side of the coin, will force savers to be prudent about those institutions which they trust their money with.
In this context let us revisit the financial crisis. Low base rates (from 15% in 1981 to under 5% in 2006) created cheap credit which led to careless lending which in turn led to a temporary boom followed by a devastating bust when it dawned on everyone that the boom was spurred merely by debt. It was all started when price signals were distorted by the central bank. It is perplexing to see politicians making the same mistake over and over again. Mark Carney has said that he wants to keep interest rates as low as 0.5% until unemployment reaches 7%. What he does not realise is that even if he does achieve that goal it would only be in the short-term and will very shortly be followed by a bust when everyone realises that the growth had been, once again, riding on nothing but debt. What we need to realise is that no matter how smart our Bank of England governor is, he is still one man. A man who has been given an impossible task of determining the price and supply of money – a task only fit for society as a collective through a spontaneous order. What is worse is that the new planned mortgage schemes will further misdirect the credit into the housing market. Business Secretary Vince Cable has himself warned us of a housing bubble if this scheme goes through (he also predicted the last recession by the way!).
When will politicians understand that interfering with the market will only exacerbate things in the long run and have severe unintended effects? When will they understand that we – the people – are better placed to make judgements about our lives than a group of politicians who are designated to make our decisions for us?
The scariest thing is that when the next economic catastrophe occurs, capitalism will most probably be blamed again and more socialism and Keynesianism will be invoked as a solution to our economic problems.