Sunday, July 26, 2009

Animal Spirits

Not yet dead. And that carries with it an immediate and an intermediate implication.

Short term--we'll have a period of incomprehensible but irritating giddiness in the financial markets which will significantly grate on both the general public and the political classes. Ballooning bank profits will highlight the different fates of Main Street and Wall Street while rising unemployment and credit card defaults plague the middle and working classes. But, bankers will get highly publicized base salary increases, equity markets will remain bouyant (despite anemic corporate profits), and the public's suffering and misery will remain oddly invisible.

Intermediate--the adjustment to the 'new normal' will be sour and seriously constrain the ability of policymakers and the regulatory apparatus to respond to the next systemic crisis. The refusal of animal spirits to die will undermine any meaningful reform initiatives, which in turn will absolve the political classes of any meaningful commitment to defend or sustain the institutions that survive the current financial crisis. Efforts by those institutions at some point down the line to call of public resources to save their private bacon will not exactly be rebuffed, but will result in an outcome currently unforeseen by anyone and that will be the product of a gesalt that has yet to develop a recognisable identity.

A year ago, under the leadership of President Bush and Secretary Paulson, the financial services sector was politicized. The implicit government guarantee of the leverage of the 19 TARP institutions forever changed the character of those institutions and made them quasi public entities. They continue to be run for private purposes, but that situation cannot last forever.

And won't.

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