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Ten years ago this week, the investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, initiating a worldwide financial crisis that resulted in the Great Recession. Massive bailouts, the Obama stimulus package, and some amount of international comity—each imperfect, even ugly, in its own way—prevented what was otherwise very likely: another Great Depression.
But, as Jonathan Kirshner presciently warned in these pages in 2011, “the collective sigh of relief and overconfident pronouncements emanating from Wall Street and Washington obscure the fact that we have done little to avert an even worse crisis in the future. We may have stanched the bleeding, but the underlying disease—a culture, ideology, and political economy of uninhibited finance—remains. Indeed, by tiptoeing around the real issues we may ultimately make things worse.”
From the vantage of 2018—where, despite the appearance of a strong economy, economic inequality is ballooning—it is hard to disagree. The pieces below highlight just how far we still are from meaningful financial reform. They also help us imagine a more just economy by defining what, exactly, it is that we owe one another.
“The banks emerged from the crisis bigger, more powerful, and more systemically dangerous than ever before. They are playing by most of the old rules and all of the old norms. We are now left with six gargantuan, interconnected, too-big-to-fail financial institutions that are a threat to our economy and our democracy.”
“If progressive politics is to challenge the fusion of racially-charged conservative populism and the GOP’s favoring of big business, it must rediscover the alternative tradition of financial and economic regulation found in progressive political thought that takes seriously the problem of power and aspires to a thicker form of economic freedom.”
“A proper understanding of the economics that lies behind neoliberalism would allow us to identify—and to reject—ideology when it masquerades as economic science. Most importantly it would help us develop the institutional imagination we badly need to redesign capitalism for the twenty-first century.”
“What we’ve seen over the last thirty years is a war on the human imagination. The instinct of the people now in power is to figure out how to change things as little as possible. The world political culture has turned into this knee-jerk defensive conservatism of trying desperately to maintain things exactly as they are, for as long a period as possible.”
“A close examination of the history of Sarbanes-Oxley, the last law we passed to prevent financial crises once and for all, does not inspire confidence that new financial laws such as Dodd-Frank will be enforced.”