Brad de Long confesses to being a weekend antiglobalist.
I come down on the pro-mobility side on five days of the week (the other two I wake up in a cold sweat), but that is primarily because of my judgment that late-nineteenth century large-scale international capital mobility was profoundly helpful in spite of all its drawbacks, and I cannot see a difference between then and now that would lead to a different conclusion.
I guess, by the same token, that I’m a weekend globalist. My Golden Age is not the 19th century but the Long Boom from 1945 to the early 1970s, a period of unparalleled prosperity brought to a close by the pressures of capital mobility. Like Brad, but for the opposite reason, I wake up two days a week worrying that it was all an illusion and the capital mobility was the red pill that enabled us to see the truth.
But mostly, I think that the long boom failed because of avoidable mistakes, and that our best hope is a modernised and refurbished version of the Keynesian/social democratic policies that gave us that boom. In this context, the relevant issue is not so much capital mobility as the role of capital markets in general. I see capital markets as essential but dangerous, requiring tight regulation at all times. As Keynes said “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”
Brad’s views are confirmed by the experience of the 1980s, when capital markets acted as the enforcer of fiscal discipline on wayward governments, notably in Latin America, and broke down the power of entrenched interest groups. These experiences gave rise to the famous ‘Washington consensus’.
Mine are confirmed by the experience of the late 1990s, when financial market panics produced a string of apparently unnecessary financial crises in Mexico, Thailand, Indonesia, Argentina and so on. In every case, the countries affected had been financial market darlings up to the day the panic struck.
Even more, I’m struck by the failure of the world’s most sophisticated financial markets in their basic task, that of allocating funds for investment. Governments have wasted a lot of money on silly projects, but the dissipation of a trillion dollars in the space of a couple of years on valueless dotcoms and redundant optical fibre is a record that is not going to be matched any time soon. And as far as rent-seeking goes, the amount creamed off in this process by people whose contribution was entirely negative gives the Mobutus and Saddams of this world a fair run for their money.
Update “Jane Galt” replies. However, her most specific counter-point, the observation that during the 1990s, “Japan spent over 100% of its GDP on redundant construction projects and similarly ineffective stimulus” seems to me to be singularly ill-chosen as a response to my observation about speculative bubbles. However ineffectual Japan’s policies of stimulus may have been (they have, after all, kept the economy afloat and unemployment around 5 per cent) they were only adopted in the first place as a response to a speculative bubble and bust in land and stocks comparable to that of the dotcoms/telecoms in the US a decade or so later.