The lesson of Japan’s failure

Ten years ago, Japan had a banking crisis very like the one we just had.  It was discovered that financiers and big businessmen had blown staggering sums of money, whereupon the government massively intervened to keep those that had screwed up from losing their jobs.

The Japanese economy has been stagnant ever since, even though, or perhaps because, the government has poured huge amounts of “stimulus” over the economy, so much “stimulus” that the Japanese government is now approaching bankruptcy.

President Barack Obama correctly observed:

There are two countries who have gone through some big financial crises over the last decade or two. One was Japan, which never really acknowledged the scale and magnitude of the problems in their banking system and that resulted in what’s called “The Lost Decade”. They kept on trying to paper over the problems. The markets sort of stayed up because the Japanese government kept on pumping money in. But, eventually, nothing happened and they didn’t see any growth whatsoever.

Obama then proceeds to explain why we are going to do what failed for Japan:

we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core — core investment needs of this country.

No we don’t. We want to retain a strong sense that businessmen who succeed, win, and businessmen that foul up, lose their shirts. It is not capitalism when the capitalists are kept in power by the state.

To work, capitalism has to be run by people who are smart.  The entrepreneur unites other people’s money and other people’s labor, to create value.  The Wall Streeters revealed themselves to be idiots who massively subtracted value.

Similarly General motors, who managed to destroy the amazing sum of about four hundred billion dollars of value over the last decade.

The big factor in downturns is that people attempt to continue saving, while holding back from investing, whereupon the economy bogs down, thus the big factor is distrust of financial intermediaries.  In this sense, recessions are largely supply side problems rather than demand side problems. In the last three years, vast numbers of financial intermediaries have been revealed as untrustworthy and incompetent.

In Japan, in a similar crisis thirteen years ago the insiders were revealed to be incompetent and corrupt. In a similar response, the Japanese government intervened to protect insiders from the consequences of exposure, keeping them in charge of other people’s wealth.

This in Japan as here led to massive decline in investment and demand, to which the Japanese government responded with “stimulus” – building bridges to nowhere, paving rivers, and so on and so forth.

This led to a massive increase in Japanese government debt, now the highest in the world, but failed to cure the recession.  The government could manufacture demand, but not supply.

Japanese government debt is the highest in the world not because no other government was prepared to borrow so much, but because all other governments that attempted to borrow as much, have gone bust.

Bridges to nowhere will not fix the supply side problem, and tax cuts can have only limited effectiveness. Rather, a new crop of productive entrepreneurs must arise, the creation side of capitalism’s creative destruction.  But in a world of bailouts, the way to success is connections, political correctness, and getting on with the rest of the elite, which gives us the sort of capitalist establishment that got us into this mess.

The banks that were run by bankers of the Ebenezer Scrooge type, who accepted CRA with the same enthusiasm as they turned up at their dentist for a root canal, tended to be taken over by banks of the Washington Mutual type, who were rewarded for their political correctness in embracing CRA with genuine enthusiasm, by regulatory favor in their takeovers.  And that crowd, the Washington Mutual sort, is the crowd that is still in charge, government guaranteed to be in charge.  We need a finance sector run by the likes of Ebenezer Scrooge, and an automobile industry run by the likes of Hank Rearden.  To get that, badly run businesses have to go bankrupt, and their assets need to be auctioned off at the block.

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