Morning Edition engaged in ritualistic praise of Stanley Fischer, in discussing his prospects for approval as President Obama's pick to be vice-chair of the Federal Reserve Board. It accurately reported that economists on both the left and right of the political mainstream respect Fischer and see him as central to shaping the current state of macroeconomics.

The small point left out of this discussion is that this macroeconomics led us into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, giving the country and the world a slump from which we have not yet recovered. Tens of millions of people have seen their lives ruined as a result of failed economic management.

Fischer personally played a direct role in creating the imbalances that led to the crisis. As first managing director at the I.M.F., he played a central role in directing the bailout from the East Asian financial crisis. The harsh conditions imposed by the I.M.F. led the countries of the region, along with countries throughout the developing world, to begin to accumulate massive amounts of reserves (dollars) in order to avoid ever being in the same situation as the East Asian countries.

This led to a huge rise in the value of the dollar and an explosion in the size of the U.S. trade deficit. The trade deficit created a huge gap in demand. This gap in demand was filled in the late 1990s with the demand generated by the stock bubble. The demand gap was filled in the last decade by the housing bubble. This is not a stable mechanism for generating demand.

In standard textbook economics capital is supposed to flow from rich countries to poor countries where in principle it will derive a higher rate of return. Fischer's policies at the I.M.F. led to a reversal of this pattern in a very big way. The consequences for the world economy have been disastrous. This point could have been made to NPR's audience if it had spoken to anyone who was not complicit in this momentous mistake.

 

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