Thursday 20 Sep 2018 | 05:22 | SYDNEY
Thursday 20 Sep 2018 | 05:22 | SYDNEY

The Wall Street-Treasury complex, revisited


Mark Thirlwell

17 April 2009 15:46

There’s been a fair bit of discussion as to whether a useful way to think about the current economic and financial crisis is in terms of emerging market crises. For example, Nouriel Roubini — now known as Dr Doom — drew on the experience of the series of emerging markets crises that took place in the 1990s to fuel his pessimism about the US, which he worried ‘looked like the biggest emerging market of all’.

Roubini drew parallels between the US and emerging markets based on the presence of large fiscal and external deficits and the associated reliance on a continued supply of willing overseas funders.

Now Simon Johnson, former chief economist at the IMF, has suggested the US resembles a crisis-prone emerging market in another way: the presence of a powerful elite or oligarchy that effectively captures the government and then proceeds to overreach in good times and take too many risks in the expectation that the government will bail it out if things go wrong. Specifically, Johnson emphasises what he describes as the growing power and influence of the US financial sector as both an important contributor to the crisis and as a significant obstacle to its effective resolution.

Johnson’s argument’s make for an intriguing echo of Jagdish Bhagwati’s earlier identification of a ‘Wall Street-Treasury complex’ given that Bhagwati had linked an IMF-led push for capital account liberalisation to the same set of 1990s emerging market crises that drew Roubini’s attention.

For a selection of interesting responses to Johnson’s piece, see this column by the FT’s Martin Wolf asking whether America is the new Russia, this critique from Dani Rodrik and this discussion on crony capitalism in America at the National Journal.