Five lessons we need to learn from 2009

The best that could have been said about 2009 is that it could have been a lot worse. Still, it was pretty bad and there's no guarantee things will pick up that quickly. If anything with the level of debt sloshing around in the system and with the refusal of banks to lend money, things could get worse.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz says there are five lessons we need to learn from last year.

The first, and most obvious, is that markets are not self-correcting and if governments fail to regulate them, there will be excesses.

Secondly, markets often don't work they're meant to, particularly when you have perverse incentives like bonus schemes encouraging managers to take big risks with other people's money.

Lesson number three is that Keynesian policies where governments create stimulus packages actually do work, provided of course that those packages are well-targeted and not wasteful. If you cut budgets too far, it destroys confidence, impedes demand and only prolongs the economic agony.

Another lesson is that there's more to monetary policy than fighting inflation. Indeed, inflation is actually a second order issue when you compare it to asset bubbles running out of control. Central banks like the Fed ignored the housing bubble and the results were disastrous.

And finally, innovation does not result in a more efficient, stable and productive economy. The financial engineering that produced derivatives and collateralized debt obligations got around the laws that were there to protect the public and created more risk.

The big concern is that governments have not heeded these lessons. Wall Street wealth now calls the shots in Congress and in the White House. America's top 1% own more than 90% of America's wealth. Since Goldman Sachs became a bank holding company, the banks are again gambling with a mix of taxpayer bailout money and retail customer deposits, oil and energy costs are skyrocketing and day trading junkies are making billions of dollars from zombie stocks like AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which are only there because of US government guarantee.


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