A group of experts associated with the Economists for Peace and Security and the Initiative for Rethinking the Economy met recently in Paris to discuss financial and monetary issues; their viewpoints, summarized here by Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith, are largely at odds with the global political and economic establishment.
Despite noting some success in averting a catastrophic collapse of liquidity and a decline in output, the Paris group was pessimistic that there would be sustained economic recovery and a return of high employment. There was general consensus that the precrisis financial system should not be restored, that reviving the financial sector first was not the way to revive the economy, and that governments should not pursue exit strategies that permit a return to the status quo. Rather, the crisis exposes the need for profound reform to meet a range of physical and social objectives.
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Critics argue that the current crisis has exposed the profligacy of the Greek government and its citizens, who are stubbornly fighting proposed social spending cuts and refusing to live within their means. Yet Greece has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the European Union (EU), and its social safety net is modest compared to the rest of Europe. Since implementing its austerity program in January, it has reduced its budget deficit by 40 percent, largely through spending cuts. But slower growth is causing revenues to come in below targets, and fuel-tax increases have contributed to growing inflation. As the larger troubled economies like Spain and Italy also adopt austerity measures, the entire continent could find government revenues collapsing.
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Pension funds have taken a big hit during the current financial crisis, with losses in the trillions of dollars. In addition, both private and public pensions are experiencing significant funding shortfalls, as is the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit pension plans of private American companies. Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the employment-based pension system is highly problematic, since the strategy for managing pension funds leads to excessive cost and risk in an effort to achieve above-average returns. The average fund manager, however, will only achieve the risk-free return. The authors therefore advocate expanding Social Security and encouraging private and public pensions to invest only in safe (risk-free) Treasury bonds—which, on average, will beat the net returns on risky assets.