The Next Bretton Woods

It took the world 15 years and a world war to come together to address the weaknesses in the global financial system that contributed to the Great Depression. Given the level of global interdependence today, we cannot afford to wait that long to address the causes of the current crisis.

NEW YORK – The world is sinking into a major global slowdown, likely to be the worst in a quarter-century, perhaps since the Great Depression. This crisis was “made in America,” in more than one sense. 

America exported its toxic mortgages around the world, in the form of asset-backed securities. America exported its deregulatory free market philosophy, which even its high priest, Alan Greenspan, now admits was a mistake. America exported its culture of corporate irresponsibility – non-transparent stock options, which encourage the bad accounting that has played a role in this debacle, just as it did in the Enron and Worldcom scandals a few years ago. And, finally, America has exported its economic downturn. 

The Bush administration has finally come around to doing what every economist urged it to do: put more equity into the banks. But, as always, the devil is in the details, and United States Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may have succeeded in subverting even this good idea; he seems to have figured out how to recapitalize the banks in such a way that it may not result in resumption of lending, which would bode poorly for the economy.

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