Much of the World, Including The U.S., Does Does Practice Capitalism, They Practice Greed
For those looking for signs of how globalization has woven the world into a web of unexpected vulnerability, 2011 offered a bumper crop.If you want to fix this, guess what, according to right-wing conservatives, you're a socialist. If you want a capitalist system, a free market system that does regularly crush the middle and blue collar class, you're a stinking commie. In America we just do not have adult conversations about how to make things better because any talk of making things better, more fair, less catastrophic gets you labeled a communist. Do you hope your kids will live in a fair enlighetned societyand does not have to go through the economic insecurity you have to live with? Forget it. The powers that be have decided that greed is good. The powers that be have decided any attempt to bring back regulations like Glass–Steagall Act to protect average Americans is Marxism on wheels.
An earthquake in Japan sent the global auto manufacturing industry into a conniption.
A flood in Thailand drastically reduced supplies of computer hard drives, forcing even a titan like Intel to swiftly reduce revenue forecasts.
State-subsidized solar panel production in China crushed a U.S.-subsidized solar start-up, thereby igniting a Washington political scandal.
It is child’s play to find further examples. The underlying reality is that unexpected consequences make everyone nervous. Sensibilities are on hair trigger. Just two weeks ago, the New York Times captured the new jitteriness in a single quote. In a story reporting how U.S. stock traders were increasingly setting their alarm clocks for the middle of the night, in order to absorb the latest news from Europe as soon as it started to break, one stock analyst, Michael Mayo, complains in a tone of bemused wonder: “Who would have thought we would have to be looking at Italian sovereign debt yields to figure out what Morgan Stanley’s stock will do?”
For those who haven’t been living and dying on every twist and turn of the European financial crisis, some unpacking of that sentence may be in order. Most modern governments routinely auction some form of state-backed bonds or other securities in order to raise cash. If the bond investors aren’t excited about the opportunity — let’s suppose, just for argument’s sake, that they’re afraid the Italian economy is about to collapse — then Italy must offer a higher interest rate, or yield, on those bonds to attract buyers. The higher the yield, the more negative the bond market’s judgment is assumed to be.
But for most of November and December, the health of Italy’s debt sales became not merely a judgment on Italy’s economic health and fiscal stability, but a swiftly translated proxy for investor sentiment about the state of all Europe. If Italy ran into real trouble, so the theory went, France and Germany would soon be swept into the vortex. And a European recession would obviously be bad news for the rest of the world. So one unsuccessful auction in Rome becomes immediate cause for bearish sentiment in New York and Tokyo and Shanghai.
And no one wants to be caught more than one nanosecond out of the loop. If the orders go out to sell or buy, you want to get there first. Since now, more than ever, bad news travels fast, everyone’s got to be quick on the trigger.
It doesn’t seem healthy, but we’re going to have to get used to it. Volatility and vulnerability are built into the infrastructure of our modern world. The jury may still out on the chaos theory question of whether a single butterfly flapping its wings in Botswana can cause a typhoon in the Philippines, but we now know without a shadow of a doubt that the relative success or failure of a troubled European government’s attempt to raise cash can send instant shock waves across financial markets across the globe.
And we know, intimately, that it doesn’t take much to set off a cascade of trouble — after the great global crash of 2008, traders everywhere are in a state of permanent PTSD. Beyond the obvious surface connections between markets — that European recession slowing U.S. economic growth — there are abundant linkages beneath the scenes that are obscure and hard to unravel, interconnections woven by complex derivatives and hedging strategies and computer-driven high-speed trading algorithms that instantly translate woe in one market to panic in another.
The inescapable conclusion: Our modern high-tech markets, in which more money than ever before swirls around the globe in a blink of an eye, are better at transmitting panic and fear than anything heretofore created by humans. If civilization is supposed to imply progress, then something has gone very awry: In the second decade of the 21st century, our infrastructure is increasingly fragile, increasingly prone to disruption. The sword of Damocles hangs above everyone’s head, and the thread that keeps it from falling is fraying perilously thin.
What is perhaps most fascinating about this state of affairs is how it has arisen as a consequence of global capital’s relentless quest for lower operating costs and greater efficiency and flexibility. The better we get at extending supply and production chains across the globe, the more vulnerable those chains become to a disruption at any given point. The faster we enable the transmission of information around the world and through the financial markets, the more volatile those markets become, as every new headline sends a different trading signal.