Thursday, January 29, 2009

Is Free-Market Ideology Flawed?

In a controversial article published in the Guardian, Jeffrey Sachs calls out free-market ideology as flawed and applauds the measures being taken by Obama to get the government more involved in business. America is known for its relatively free-market economy, and for years it seemed to work great, but Sachs argues that things have changed. Whether or not one agrees with Sachs it is interesting to hear his perspective on things. Mark Thoma from the Economist's View presents Sach's article in his blog post below.

Jeff Sachs seems to be pleased with the new administrations commitment to "a new age of sustainable development":

Rewriting the rulebook for 21st-century capitalism, by Jeffrey Sachs, CIF, The Guardian: One of President Barack Obama's historic contributions will be a grand act of policy jujitsu - turning the crushing economic crisis into the launch of a new age of sustainable development. ... Obama is already setting a new historic course by reorienting the economy from private consumption to public investments directed at the great challenges of energy, climate, food production, water and biodiversity.

The new president has taken every opportunity to underscore that the economic crisis will not slow, but rather will accelerate, the much-needed economic transformation to sustainability. ... The fiscal stimulus ... will lay down the first steps of a massive generation-long technological overhaul...

Obama has started with the most important first step: a team of scientific and technological advisers of stunning quality... He has also focused on two core truths of sustainable development: that technological overhaul lies at the core of the challenge, and that such an overhaul requires a public-private partnership for success. Taking shape, therefore, is nothing less than a new 21st-century model of capitalism ... committed to the dual objectives of economic development and sustainability...

Consider the challenge of a bankrupt automobile sector... In the Obama strategy, GM will not be closed to punish it... It's worth far too much as a world leader in the electric vehicles of the 21st century. ...

Conservatives are aghast. The bail-out of the auto industry was hard enough to swallow. Government investments in infrastructure and research and development are viewed with scorn, compared with the tried and true (if disastrously failed) tax cuts of the Bush era. Rightwing pundits bemoan the evident intention of Obama and team to "tell us what kind of car to drive". Yet that is exactly what they intend to do (at least with regard to the power source under the hood), and rightly so. Free-market ideology is an anachronism in an era of climate change, water stress, food scarcity and energy insecurity. Public-private efforts to steer the economy to a safe technological harbour will be the order of the new era.

There is plenty of room for blunders... Government activism can founder on the shoals of massive budget deficits, tax-cutting populism pushed by the right, politically motivated investments such as corn-based ethanol..., and more. Yet Obama is absolutely correct that we have no choice but to try...

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