Europe and the U.S., After the Fall

If you’re looking for insight into the lessons learned from the global financial crisis, you could do a lot worse than this Walter Russell Mead essay. Mead nails down a bunch of thoughts that have been swirling in my head recently, that I haven’t had the time or the talent to express as articulately. In particular, the idea that the Battle of Financial Markets, as he calls the initial stage of the crisis, has now given way to the Battle of State Finance. By that he means that the global economy’s theoretic backstop — i.e., the state’s capacity to rescue the system — has now been called into question. This, combined with his treatment of the politicization of economic governance, is what I was searching for here:

The economic measures mobilized to head off a financial meltdown, both in the U.S. in 2008 and in Europe in 2010, are for all intense and purposes a sham. The wealth that is being protected is virtual, as would be its loss, the result of what has become a business cycle based on bubbles and stopgap interventions designed to convince everyone that they can carry on as usual. Now it seems that the market’s insistence on pulling back the curtain that was covering that sham has ended up revealing an even greater one. Over the past few week’s I’ve seen frequent references to the “Emperor Has No Clothes.” But this is closer to the “Wizard of Oz,” writ large.

States have not been intervening in markets to correct for inefficiencies. They’ve been intervening to protect outcomes, thereby exacerbating those inefficiencies. Now their ability to protect those outcomes has been called into question by the very markets they’ve been trying to save. It’s hard to see how we can avoid a very bumpy landing in returning to contact with reality.

For more on pulling back curtains, with particular regard to Europe, see John Vinocur’s column, too (via Art Goldhammer). Again, there’s plenty of blame to go around.

More World Politics Review