20080711

This is not a financial crisis

This is not a financial crisis but a crisis of finance.
This is not an economic crisis but a crisis of economics.
This is not a strategic crisis but a crisis of strategy.


Listening to Henry Paulson or Ben Bernanke is quite depressing. Not because of the news they carry but because of their absolute lack of vision. Along with the crowd, they postponed the realization of the crisis* in a comical state of denial : look back at the past year and tell me what's been said and done. A total waste of time and money, which will make reforms even costlier. And we are far from having seen it all (ie masses of small stock exchange gamblers in China, real estate bubble in Korea, global wake-up call for "real economy"...).

I haven't heard of any strategic measure for years and key decision makers are only talking about tactics. Yes, there are rumors of a reform in the monitoring and the regulation, but I'm not certain this casting is up to the task. Especially since such rumors started years ago.

A consensus will eventually emerge from a free market to a fair market**, but no one is actually tackling the issue. The world leaders have other fishes to fry... starting with our planet : the G8 members unanimously decided to start curbing their CO2 dogs circa 2050, when Dubai have the same chances of hosting the Winter Olympic Games as Sapporo.

Think tanks ? They are basically lobbying groups. And right now, conservative think tanks are focusing on how to ignite a war in Iran**... while left now, liberal think tanks are focusing on how to impeach Rove / Cheney / Dubya (too little, 4 years too late).

Analysts ? Even the few independent ones are struggling for relevance.

The thing is capitalism died when the Soviet Union collapsed : deprived of the last supervillain, Superman grew lazier and fatter, forgot how to fly and used his X-ray vision only for despisable reasons. Meanwhile, John and Jane Smith became the new superheroes. Because all of a sudden, superpowers became mainstream : the web abruptly shrunk all time-, distance-, and information-gaps, putting them on par with the best financial gurus*. Overwhelmingly, "commoners" have swarmed all the "expert"'s favorite spots. There are no more safe havens, nor profitable niche markets, even off market (stock exchanges have lost their status of key indicators, bubbles also struck the private equity arenas...). There is no speed limit, only a succession of bubbles in an ocean of microbubbles.

Posting 10-20% yields makes a living, not a life. And finance as the aim of the game is over.

Winning against misery, that's a life. Not to be confused with winning against poverty : what is the point in making hundreds of million people pass a certain revenue threshold if you confront them with new unbearable challenges ?

Winning against underdevelopment, that's a life. Not to be confused with posting high GNP growth. Think supranational, smart infrastructures, pooling limited ressources and sharing world class education and health care experts.

Winning against desertification, that's a life. But the sound, microcultural, African way... not to be confused with the suicidal, Dubai way (earning big on desert lands in the short term, losing bigger in the long term).

Luxury is about doing whatever you want whenever you want with whomever you want. Not about purchasing when you can what everybody wants.

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* and the reality of the ineluctable recession (see "The end of financial safe havens" - 20070303)

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* see "Mondialisation : du "free market" au "fair market" (20070726) and the utterly awful self-translation below :

"Globalization is first about incredible shrinking gaps that used to be key in economics : gaps in time, space, level of information... the sector which used to benefit the most from those gaps logically dominated the last few years. But finance is meeting a crisis. Not a financial crisis, but a crisis of finance as the aim of the game.

Speculation thrives upon gaps in time, space and knowledge, and speculators are among the first to embrace innovations in transports or communications, but such tools have become commodities and the number of speculators exploded. Nowadays, the bulk of speculators are non-experts, like those Chinese pensioners sipping tea and chit chatting in now countless shareholders parlors. In this new Far East like everywhere across the World, speculative niches pop up and pop out one by one, and experts can't find any safe spot to plant their tents. The loss of influence of traditional stock exchanges and the Gold Rush for private equities illustrate as much the aversion for irrationality and the need to de-virtualize economics. But even at that level, frontiers are melting and bubbles are inflating.

An "elite" of experts kind of manages to survive : I call "instant players" these creatures fitted for life in unstable environments which roam more frequently on the Thames than the Yellow river. They are very good at burning : money, bridges between friends and reality, cocaine on spoons, and ultimately their own wings.

It's become obvious for a couple of years now : there is too much greedy money in too many hands for the suicidal rush to last much longer.

This young millenium is looking for clues at the root, browsing through pages written by great economists from past centuries. The answer won't come from Adam Smith or Karl Marx but somehow, for economics to restore its own dignity, it needs to review its fundamentals (capital, value, means and aims...) and go much further.

Many signs let us envision the emergence of a consensus on the diagnostic, similar to the one reached about global warming. Economics are about the impacts of human activity anyway, and theoretically they should take into account all environments, all ecosystems... not to mention the fact that there again, diversity and evolutivity are key to survival.

In economics like in environmental studies, major improvements are more likely to come from recent converts, those who resisted to evidences in order to maintain priviledges instead of embracing the future and its opportunities.

Most movements denouncing globalization are "against" and don't offer solutions. Alter-globalization activists often recommand the end of economics and thus the end of mankind, that global parasite which will kill the planet before it finds a new spot to colonize.

A consensus will emerge on more pragmatic basis : a market economy that would be open but regulated and based on mutual respect. A "fair market" rather than a "free market". A global market because globalization requires a global approach of our ecosystem as a whole, but we are far from there. And in this transitional period where free trade fanatics are pointed out, protectionism is back. Far beyond what is needed and sometimes a rather subtle way.

For instance, the Bush Administration are supposedly promoting free trade across the globe but their politics are basically multi-bilateral and self-centered, systematically blocking all multi-lateral attempts : after "less UN, more Coalition of the Willing", after "less Geneva, more Abu Ghraib", after "less Kyoto, more Alaska drilling", they delivered "less WTO, more FTAs". The said "Free Trade Agreements" being as "free trade" as the Patriot Act was "patriotic" : asymetrical, full of exceptions, and by nature protectionist, these FTAs can sound profitable for the States but only in the short term, and only for Dubya's base of "haves and have-mores".

Paradoxically, this strategy illustrates the negation of globalization because it means the refusal of a global approach to globalization. Drawing a parallel with today's crisis within each of the great monotheist religions (see "Universal Declaration of Independence from fundamentalism"), the wise thing to do is not to fuel extremists of all sides by accepting their fake "war of civilizations", but to respectfully reach beyond the frontiers and collaborate on what brings us together, and to be ready to make concessions in order to eradicate collectively the most fundamental injustices."


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** see "Iran : who wants war and why" - 20070925

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