The second important lesson involves understanding why markets often do not work the way they are meant to. There are many reasons for market failures. In this case, too-big-to-fail financial institutions had perverse incentives: if they gambled and succeeded, they walked off with the profits; if they lost, the taxpayer would pay. Moreover, when information is imperfect, markets often do not work well – and information imperfections are central in finance. Externalities are pervasive: the failure of one bank imposed costs on others, and failures in the financial system imposed costs on taxpayers and workers all over the world.
The third lesson is that Keynesian policies do work. Countries, like Australia, that implemented large, well-designed stimulus programs early emerged from the crisis faster. Other countries succumbed to the old orthodoxy pushed by the financial wizards who got us into this mess in the first place.
Whenever an economy goes into recession, deficits appear, as tax revenues fall faster than expenditures. The old orthodoxy held that one had to cut the deficit – raise taxes or cut expenditures – to “restore confidence.” But those policies almost always reduced aggregate demand, pushed the economy into a deeper slump, and further undermined confidence – most recently when the International Monetary Fund insisted on them in East Asia in the 1990’s.
The fourth lesson is that there is more to monetary policy than just fighting inflation….