Written by Richard A. Posner
Publication Date: November 30, 2011
Following up on his timely and well-received book, A Failure of Capitalism, Richard Posner steps back to take a longer view of the continuing crisis of democratic capitalism as the American and world economies crawl gradually back from the depths to which they had fallen in the autumn of 2008 and the winter of 2009.
By means of a lucid narrative of the crisis and a series of analytical chapters pinpointing critical issues of economic collapse and gradual recovery, Posner helps non-technical readers understand business-cycle and financial economics, and financial and governmental institutions, practices, and transactions, while maintaining a neutrality impossible for persons professionally committed to one theory or another. He calls for fresh thinking about the business cycle that would build on the original ideas of Keynes. Central to these ideas is that of uncertainty as opposed to risk. Risk can be quantified and measured. Uncertainty cannot, and in this lies the inherent instability of a capitalist economy.
As we emerge from the financial earthquake, a deficit aftershock rumbles. It is in reference to that potential aftershock, as well as to the government’s stumbling efforts at financial regulatory reform, that Posner raises the question of the adequacy of our democratic institutions to the economic challenges heightened by the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The crisis and the government’s energetic response to it have enormously increased the national debt at the same time that structural defects in the American political system may make it impossible to pay down the debt by any means other than inflation or devaluation.
The prolific federal judge and University of Chicago economist argues that competitive forces inspire financiers to take irrational gambles--especially when they're betting other people's money. We cannot trust them to put the common good ahead of profits, says Posner. As a result, government must step in to limit the risks bankers take and, occasionally, repair the damage they inflict. Posner, who less than a year ago began his dissection of the crisis of 2008 with A Failure of Capitalism, has enormous credibility when he casts a skeptical eye on Wall Street. As an influential free-market thinker, he helped shape the antiregulatory ideology that inspired so much public policy since 1980...Posner offers solid suggestions for change. He echoes those, including former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who would reestablish the Glass-Steagall Act's separation of commercial banking from proprietary trading and other forms of high-risk finance. That would insulate the financing of small and midsized businesses from the gales of Wall Street. He also urges eliminating the semi-official status of the big three bond-rating agencies, paring back their conflicts of interest, and beefing up the beleaguered corps of civil servants who staff federal regulatory agencies. Good ideas, all. In his final pages, though, the author can't muster much confidence that America will overcome its splintered politics, the "quasi-bribery" of campaign money, or the bipartisan myth that we can thrive indefinitely on low taxes and profligate public spending. Posner may have shaken off old shibboleths--and hurray for that--but at present he sees no reason to expect that courage or fresh thinking will prevail.
--Paul Barrett (BusinessWeek 20100621)
Posner presents well-argued suggestions for change and offers fresh thinking about the business cycle, building on Keynes's theories.
--Don Tapscott (Globe and Mail 20100910)
My advice is: Read it. While his book is not exactly beach reading, Posner is a fine writer with a real talent for making complex economic and financial matters clear to the average reader. If you're a little vague on exactly what a credit-default swap is or why deflation can be a bigger problem than inflation, The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy is just the ticket...Altogether, The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy is the best thing I've read on the origins and development of the "Great Recession."
--John Steele Gordon (National Review 20101127)
This book is the most rigorous, detailed examination of the subject of origins we have so far.
--Robert Teitelman (The Deal 20101223)
The best volume I have read specifically about the financial crisis and its implications is Richard Posner's The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy...Posner's book contains a formidable-looking chart of supply and demand curves, but do not be misled: this is a clear and brilliant exposition of the greatest economic news story for generations.
--Azar Nafisi (The Times )
[A] compelling read...Notable for [its] high seriousness and sophistication...Posner unreels any number of sharp insights about shareholders, regulation and economists.
--Robert Teitelman (Huffington Post )
Paperback: 408 pages
Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 30, 2011)
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