By Martin Wolf
Paul Volcker is the giant among contemporary central bankers, both literally and figuratively. He it was who had the moral courage to crush inflation as chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1979 and 1987. When Mr Volcker speaks, people listen. What he had to tell the economic club of New York last month was well worth listening to. His summation, cited above, was so devastating, because so true.
Mr Volcker noted that this crisis is not unique. On the contrary, “today’s financial crisis is the culmination, as I count them, of at least five serious breakdowns of systemic significance in the past 25 years – on the average one every five years. Warning enough that something rather basic is amiss.” Those who do not heed such warnings are fated to suffer something yet worse.
So what is to be done? There is a part of me – quite a large part, in fact – that says: “Forget regulation: it will never work. Apart from normal laws against fraud, let the financial system live and die by the laws of competitive markets. If businesses fail, let them simply go down, with all their shareholders, customers and employees. Meanwhile, we will remind users constantly of the dangers.”
The remainder of this column can be read here. Debate from our panel of economists appears below.