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Built to Fail: Key Lessons from the Financial Crisis


Financial-driven growth has been called into question.

The key lessons of the global financial crisis (GFC) may be that the current economic order is "built to fail."

The ability to sustain high rates of economic growth, decreed by governments and central bankers, is questionable. The aggressive increase in debt globally resulted in a sharp increase in sustainable growth rates, wherein $4 to $5 of debt was required to create $1 of growth. Approximately half the recorded growth in the US over recent years was driven by borrowing against the rising value of houses (mortgage equity withdrawals). As the level of debt in the global economy decreases, attainable growth levels also decline.

The world used debt to accelerate its consumption. Spending that would have taken place normally over a period of many years was squeezed into a relatively short period because of the availability of cheap borrowings. Business over-invested -- misreading demand and assuming that the exaggerated growth would continue indefinitely -- creating significant over-capacity in many sectors.

The nouveau Jeffersonian trinity -- "whoever dies with the most toys wins," "shop till you drop," and "if it feels good, do it" -- has proved to be unsustainable.

Growth in global trade and capital flows was also built to fail. It was built on a financing model where sellers of goods and services indirectly financed the purchase. When the buyer is unwilling or unable to pay, the seller suffers doubly -- sales fall and the money advanced to the buyer falls in value.

The GFC has already reduced global trade and cross border capital flows.

Slowing exports, lower growth, and loss of jobs are encouraging trade protectionism. Financial protectionism has also emerged. Governments are supporting domestic banks and increasingly "directing" lending to domestic firms and households. Concerns about immigration are emerging.

In an essay titled "The Great Slump of 1930," published in December of that year, Keynes observed: "We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand."
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