O tem sem že nekajkrat pisal: v obdobjih, ko so bili finančni tokovi mednarodno najbolj liberalizirani, so bile finančne krize najbolj pogoste, njihova globina pa največja. V zadnjem stoletju je edino obdobje, ki je bilo praktično brez finančnih kriz, v letih med 1945 in 1973. Takrat, v tem brettonwodskem času, so bile v veljavi ovire za mednarodne tokove kapitala.
Za razliko od liberalizacije trgovine (s proizvodi in storitvami) nosi liberalizacija finančnih tokov s seboj (finančni) pomemben virus – ki se imenuje pohlep. Kapital dere tja, kjer so donosi največji, in to v nezmernih količinah, slepo kot čreda. In napihne vse balone. In ko se pojavijo znaki ohlajanja donosov, kapital pobegne na vrat na nos, slepo kot čreda, in za seboj pusti opustošenje. Baloni počijo. Če želiš biti varen pred finančno okužbo, moraš zapreti meje pred tem finančnim virusom. Ali / in regulirati moraš nosilce tega virusa – finančno industrijo.
To je zgodba, ki je nihče noče slišati, še najmanj pa ponosni arhitekti tega liberaliziranega globalnega finančnega modela. Glejte spodaj.
The chances are you won’t have read the OECD Code of Liberalisation of Capital Movements. But this dry 150-page book is perhaps the single most important document in modern capitalism. An obscure set of legal articles agreed in 1961, it signalled one of the biggest shifts in economic history: a commitment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the world’s developed economies, to end their capital controls.
We are apt to forget these days that capital controls — limits on how much money households and businesses can funnel in and out of a country — were once an accepted part of how everyone ran their economies. They were the cog in the machine that enabled governments to fix exchange rates and freely move domestic interest rates. They also protected countries from flows of so-called “hot money” — speculative funds shifted in and out of vulnerable nations. And they were supposed to be permanent.
But preventing bankers transferring money from one part of the globe to another is fiendishly tricky. The City of London engineered all sorts of workarounds, most famously the Eurodollar market. Soon enough capital controls started to look old-fashioned and ineffectual. When, after a few decades, they were abandoned, it was portrayed as a technocratic move in tune with the times. By the 1970s most countries had stopped trying to fix their exchange rates, so the controls were no longer an integral part of the global monetary system.
For the next 40 years, most economists ignored financial infrastructure and made forecasts based on the stuff they could more easily measure: house prices, national income, flows of trade. Then came the crash of 2008.
In hindsight, the strange thing wasn’t the number of recessions it caused. Many countries had the standard symptoms of a credit boom: a cocktail of overvalued house prices, high consumer debt and large current account deficits. The odd thing was that the crash affected plenty of countries which didn’t seem to have credit booms: places like Germany and Russia, for instance.
What really mattered, it turns out, was not so much what you saw at ground level but the plumbing that lay beneath. In the decades since capital controls were dismantled, the flow of funds coursing between the world’s economies accelerated at an extraordinary rate. Gross capital flows tripled between 1998 and 2007. This is the financial superhighway that imploded in 2008.
There are a few lessons we’re still absorbing, even a decade on. The first is that however much we like to think of our economies as national entities with borders, in reality they are simply nodes in an enormous international network. Even as nationalists gain popular support across the world, the financial system that determines whether we boom or bust has never been more global. Or, to quote the chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), one of the few institutions which gets this, “no individual country can be safe unless the world as a whole is safe”. Figures published by the BIS yesterday showed another leap in cross-border banking flows. For all the trade wars threatened by Donald Trump, there is nothing to stop the financial system, untrammelled by capital controls, remaining as international and disrespectful of borders as ever. How long before Mr Trump twigs this?
The second lesson is that we ignore this stuff at our peril. The idea that no country should impose capital controls is so uncontroversial that it can lie safely in a document in the OECD library, unread. Yet the abolition of these controls led to consequences that we are still getting our heads around. We know by now that financial globalisation increased the chances and severity of credit booms, house price crashes and financial crises. Only relatively recently an IMF paper showed that the removal of capital controls was responsible for much of the subsequent increase in inequality. What else did we unwittingly sign up to? Some of the answers appear in Crashed, a new book by the historian Adam Tooze, one of the sharpest minds in this field.