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Taming Finance in an Age of Austerity

NEW YORK – It was not long ago that we could say, “We are all Keynesians now.” The financial sector and its free-market ideology had brought the world to the brink of ruin. Markets clearly were not self-correcting. Deregulation had proven to be a dismal failure.

The “innovations” unleashed by modern finance did not lead to higher long-term efficiency, faster growth, or more prosperity for all. Instead, they were designed to circumvent accounting standards and to evade and avoid taxes that are required to finance the public investments in infrastructure and technology – like the Internet – that underlie real growth, not the phantom growth promoted by the financial sector.

The financial sector pontificated not only about how to create a dynamic economy, but also about what to do in the event of a recession (which, according to their ideology, could be caused only by a failure of government, not of markets). Whenever an economy enters recession, revenues fall, and expenditures – say, for unemployment benefits – increase. So deficits grow.

Financial-sector deficit hawks said that governments should focus on eliminating deficits, preferably by cutting back on expenditures. The reduced deficits would restore confidence, which would restore investment – and thus growth. But, as plausible as this line of reasoning may sound, the historical evidence repeatedly refutes it.