Today I’m into nutshells.
Asset markets and central banks are control systems, intended to provide incentives that encourage the effecient use of human and economic resources. I believe these “macro” control systems are malfunctioning, badly. Structural weaknesses in these institutions have permitted some classes of agents to profit from the misallocation and expropriation of resources, creating strong constituencies for the continuation and exacerbation of those structural weaknesses.
Why has nothing really obviously bad happened, if the world’s macroeconomic control systems are so out of whack? Economies are big, slow things. They have a lot of intertia — they like to keep doing whatever it is they do. They can be tortured a good bit and bounce back. They have a great diversity of control systems, much more fine-grained, local, and efficient than the large scale capital markets and games played by central banker finance ministers. There are margins for error. But those margins are not infinite. Self-correcting control system failures are okay. Autocatalytic failures, where ineffeciencies promote even greater ineffeciencies, are not. That’s where I think we are now.
When describing the problems, they sound very big, central, “macro”: currency manipulation, artificial liquidity, leverage, asset bubbles, commodity inflation. But central banks are not the answer to the problems they’ve helped to create. Reform, when it comes, won’t be with a Plaza Accord, an IMF/G-7/OECD initiative. The solution, eventually, will involve changing the definitions of money, corporate stock, and other financial assets, and the structure of the markets on which they trade, to be less prone to self-reinforcing malfunctions, and far more grounded in specific, local, and concrete knowledge. These will be fairly radical changes, though there may be incremental paths to get there. Understanding what more robust and effective market-based control systems would look like, and developing a rich, quantitative theory relating information-work to efficient decision-making, are perhaps the crucial challenges of our time.