Professor James Sturgeon

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From Jim Sturgeon

I’ll put in my two cents. The crooks should be convicted as a regular part of the legal system and examples set to deter future attempts. However, the acquisitive heart and I expect the felonious one, beats about the same from generation to generation (to paraphrase JKG the elder). It’s the institutions that change. We should have a way of dealing with crooks as a matter of institutional (no pun) policy. That much it seems goes without saying, although it seems to be rather more difficult to do than it should.

The most recent economic crisis, triggered by a rapid run-up in the nominal (money) price of various assets, is a more difficult institutional adjustment. Warren is correct that whatever real assets were created as we ran up the money price of debt and other monetary instruments are still in place. And whatever scientific/technological knowledge was created is still present and available for use. We are not now dumber than we were in 2000 or 2005. What has been lost is the balance sheet value of some (probably many) wealth holders. But of course if this was never a reflection of the real value of the assets then it is not so much a loss as a readjustment. People feel poorer because they once felt richer; buoyed by the fool’s gold in their portfolio. Feeling poorer, they now pull in on the reins of their consumption with all the well known results. Agreed there is a need for new rules and the enforcement of both old and new ones so as to control and regulate the financial sector. I also think we would benefit by reducing the strength of that sectors siren’s song that lures so many able minded to its call.

There is a relationship between the financial crises and the real economy, but it is of our making. By this I mean we have put in place a system of rules and policies by which the pecuniary forces in the economy animate or arrest the real forces. This frequently contributes to an already poorly functioning labor sector (market). What would help is to readjust this relationship with an eye toward lessening the impact on the real sector due to the exuberance (irrational or otherwise) in the financial sector. This is a matter of policy, law and regulatory changes necessary to adjust the institutional controls. The first and most obvious one is the labor market. The Full Employment Act of 2009 should be written and passed with an ELR provision (build a high speed rail system for openers and then I’ll add about 50 other obvious projects that would build real wealth in the US). This would significantly dampen the effect of the financial sector on the labor market and bring some stabilization to aggregate demand. Economists and others ought to give at least as much attention to the labor market and real sector as they have to the financial sector.

I don’t know if the above is what Warren has in mind when he says it is the response wherein the problem lies, but it seems to me the response so far is mostly framed with the same logic and played with most of the same players that have helped us misunderstand the relationship between finance and production.