What Drives the Global Economy?

Written By: Joshua Gayman

The Financial Times has been running a series this month entitled Capitalism In Crisis. When reading this story, it is apparent just how far we are from fixing this global economic crisis. As Richard Duncan points out in his latest post titled This is not a Crisis of Capitalism, “(it’s) not because of the insights contained in the articles, but because the entire premise of the series is completely wrong. This is not a crisis of Capitalism.”

Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. More specifically, Capitalism is where the private sector drives production by accumulating capital and investing back into the system. With true Capitalism, the government’s role is very small.

The truth is that the United States has not been Capitalistic for decades. Our federal government spends 25% of the money in our economy and the central bank AKA “The Fed” creates the money out of thin air and manipulates it’s value. Thus, our economy is no longer driven by capital accumulation and investment like before. So if it’s not capital accumulation and investment that are driving the economy, what is it you ask? The answer is DEBT.

Credit creation and consumption(using stuff) have now become the dominant forces driving economic growth. Thus, we no longer live in a Capitalistic economy. 

Capitalism was a phenomenon of the 19th century, one that did not survive past the 1st World War. WWI destroyed the standard upon which Capitalism was built. This standard was the gold standard, and once it was gone, central banks and governments gained near-total control over economic production.

The ENORMOUS expansion of government debt that was used to fund WWI created a credit bubble that we know refer to as “the Roaring Twenties.” This bubble of the Roaring Twenties soon popped and became the Great Depression of the 1930s once the debt was too big to repay.

WW2 was no different, with again complete government control over the economy. In the coming decades after, government spending surged on social programs and military expansion. By the 1960s, the government was using Keynesian tools to control monetary policy and the rate of economic growth. In 1971, President Nixon removed the dollar from the gold standard, which meant that dollars were no longer backed by gold. This gave way to a HUGE explosion of a fiat currency supply(money backed by nothing but the faith the people have in their government’s currency). This expansion in the money supply transformed our world and gave way to the biggest economic boom in human history.

In 1964, the total of all credit in the United States hit $1 Trillion. By 2010, the credit supply had expanded 50 times to $50 Trillion(Source: Richard Duncan). This new found money, or credit, created enormous wealth, profits, jobs, and tax revenues, and ultimately brought on a new age of a global economy. As long as credit keeps expanding, prosperity increases. Credit has replaced Capital as the key driver of the economy.

The economic crisis of 2008 had nothing to do with Capitalism. The crisis of 2008 and that we are still facing today stems from issues with credit creation. Because for what caused the biggest boom(or bubble) in human history, is a debt that must be repaid(unlike Capital). The debt that was taken on which drove the expansion of the last 40 years cannot be repaid, hence the crisis. Even more disturbing, is that now a large percentage of the population is now not credit worthy. This makes further credit expansion nearly impossible. And under this credit-ran economy we now live under, when the credit doesn’t expand, the growth slows, until eventually, the music stops altogether.

This 40 year period of credit expansion birthed a new era in the global economy. The United States has been de-industrialized as a result of being able to buy products from low wage countries on credit. As Industry got smaller in the US, the Finance sector became the dominant sector of the US economy. But the music has slowed down dramatically in the Finance sector as well, now that Americans can’t bear any additional debt. Now that we are weak in industry and in way too much debt, it is a growing problem for the United States to be able to act as the driver of the global economy.

But it’s not just the US who’s economy is no longer capable of working successfully. It’s also the economies of all the countries, such as China, that have seen growth as a result of strong manufacturing and export. This is another global imbalance yet to correct.

Truth is, at least to a large extent, the government now manages our nation’s economy. The US’ demand is still the most important factor to economic growth to the global economy. The world NEEDS us to buy their stuff! But without credit, we can’t!

Now, the actions of other governments and government-related institutions(IE: the European Union) must be carefully monitored. Point in case, the news 2 months ago by the European Central Bank(Europe’s Fed) that they would lend Euros($630 billion worth) to European banks for up to 3 years at low interest rates, is the reason that global stock markets have been gaining over the past 6 weeks. The stock market is also at a high since the 2008 crisis, following news from the Federal Reserve that they would keep interest rates at near zero level through 2014.

Global markets have came back sharply not because of the success of the intervention from the Central Banks itself, but because investors are realizing that more government-directed interventions will come when necessary to prevent future crises.

It is flat out sad that the global economy depends on government intervention. This topic leads to a very controversial political subject regarding smaller or bigger government. Once side argues for bigger government to avert the crisis and the other wants small government with less regulation to get us out of the mess. The reality is, unless we can come together to find a true solution to our monetary problem, both sides will get slaughtered as the biggest bubble in human history pops and credit stops, wiping out the America middle class and taking the benefits with it that we have seen as a by-product of our global economic status.

Don’t get me wrong, market forces still have an important impact in the economy. My point is that now, more often than not, it is government or central bank’s action that has so much influence on market forces that it becomes a very grey area as to where the government influence stops and the market influence itself begins. Supply and Demand still play the key role in setting value. It’s just that today, governments have an enormous role in influencing both. It is imperative that we recognize this, and understand that this is not Capitalism. We must no longer worry about fixing the crisis with Capitalism but instead shift our attention to the crisis in the current economic system that exists in this global economy, a system of debt. The only question we should be asking is this, “Do we try to fix the current debt system, or do we need a better system? Do we need to abolish the current system and go back to the former phenomenon that was a true Capitalistic economy?” I woud say this, either way, one must understand what is going on in the global economy if he(or she) wants to join the rich, as opposed to be forced into the poor, as the middle class is wiped out.