A Matter of Faith (in Markets)

Alan Greenspan contributed yesterday to the Financial Times debate about Capitalism in Crisis. The title of his article was “Meddle with the market at your peril“. Not surprisignly Greenspan presents a strong defense of capitalism and market economies by comparing its success to the failures of other systems (such as planned economies).

I do not think that many disagree with that conclusion. But where the article surprised me is when he talks about the potential failure of markets:

Anti-capitalist virulence appears strongest from those who confuse “crony capitalism” with free markets. Crony capitalism abounds when government leaders, usually in exchange for political support, routinely bestow favours on private-sector individuals or businesses. That is not capitalism. It is called corruption.

This is the only sentence in the article where Greenspan admits that there could be some failure in a market economy. But that failure is driven by bad government behavior! Other than that, markets work fine. I hope his views are not really that extreme and that he is willing to accept some of the market failures that economists have identified in the past and that are taken care of by different forms of regulation. This is to me the interesting debate, the one that identifies market failures and then tries to address them via intervention or regulation. In that debate we might find that government intervention is not always possible or efficient. And I am sure we will find disagreement on the domains where government intervention is necessary or optimal. The other debate, the one that compares “capitalism” with the economic system of the former Soviet Union does not sound too interesting or useful at this stage. And it only leads to statements like the one above that seem to be driven by faith in one of the two systems.

About Antonio Fatás 136 Articles

Affiliation: INSEAD

Antonio Fatás is professor of Economics at INSEAD. He is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in London and has worked as external consultant for international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and the World Bank.

He teaches the macroeconomics core course in the MBA program as well as different modules on the global macroeconomic environment in Executive Education. His research is focused on the study of business cycles, fiscal policy and the economics of European integration. His articles appear in academic journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Monetary Economics, Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Journal of Public Economics, Journal of International Economics, Journal of Economic Growth, European Economic Review or Economic Policy.

Professor Fatás earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and M.S. from Universidad de Valencia.

Visit: Antonio Fatás Blog, Personal Page

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