‘Buying time’ doesn’t fix financial crises; it makes the next ones worse

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The strategy of “buying time so the financial system can heal itself” by protecting a systemically destabilizing financial sector has failed because it could only fail.

By Charles Hugh Smith

The core strategy of central states and banks to fix the Global Financial Meltdown of 2008 was to buy time: take extraordinary emergency monetary and regulatory measures to save the parasitic too big to fail banking sector and the rest of the crony-capitalist Wall Street parasites, and initiate an unprecedented transfer of wealth from savers and Main Street to the banks and Wall Street via zero-interest rates and credit funneled to the very players who caused the crisis.

The idea was that the system would “heal itself” if authorities simply “bought time” by saving the financial sector from its own predation. The second phase of “buying time so the financial system can heal itself” was to institute policies (ZIRP, etc.) that restored the financial sector’s obscene profits and socialized its losses by transferring them to the taxpayers.

The terrible irony in the official strategy of “buying time so the financial system can heal itself” is the policies prohibit healing and guarantee the next financial crisis will be greater in magnitude than the last one.

There is only one way for any financial system to heal itself: enable the open market to discover the price of capital, credit, assets, collateral and risk. When participants finally discover the market price of their assets and collateral are much lower than the valuations claimed in credit bubbles, the market clears itself of bad credit and overvalued collateral in a market-clearing event in which overpriced assets are marked down, firms that overleveraged weak collateral are declared insolvent and liquidated, and creditors who can no longer afford their loans are declared bankrupt and their remaining assets liquidated to pay their creditors.

There is no other healing process but this one: enable transparent, open markets to discover the price of capital, credit, assets, collateral and risk and let those firms and individuals who overleveraged and made bets that blew up go bankrupt.

What “buying time” has done is destroy the market’s ability to price capital, credit, assets, collateral and risk, stripping the system of the essential information participants need to make rational, informed decisions. By crushing the market’s ability to generate accurate pricing information, central state and banking authorities have insured the system cannot possibly heal itself while maintaining perverse incentives that guarantee the next financial crisis will dwarf the previous one.

The official policy of “buying time” has another fatal flaw: it maintains a parasitic financial sector that expanded to a structurally unhealthy dominance over both the political and economic sectors. Once financial profits ballooned from a modest share of corporate profits to dominance, this enabled financiers and bankers to buy political protection of their skimming and scamming:

(Graphic Oftwominds.com)

(Graphic courtesy of Oftwominds.com)

The strategy of “buying time so the financial system can heal itself’ by protecting a systemically destabilizing financial sector has failed because it could only fail. The policies that “saved the financial system” only saved it from the healing process of the market discovering the price of capital, credit, assets, collateral and risk.

Used by permission. Read also Charles Hugh Smith’s new book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy. The Kindle edition is $9.95. The print edition is $20. You can read the introduction and first section of the book here. Mr. Smith is the author of the oftwominds.com blog, No. 7 in CNBC’s top alternative financial sites, and seven books on our economy and society, including Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It and The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education.  His work is published on a number of popular financial websites including Zero Hedge, Financial Sense, and David Stockman’s Contra Corner. Here is our review of Resistance, Revolution, Liberation: A Model for Positive Change.

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