My son was born in 2010, and sometimes I imagine trying to explain to him what the world was like before the financial crisis. Well, Spain was doing really well, you see; and, in Britain, children got £250 just for being born. Also, Russia’s president said he was going to double the size of the economy in a decade. And everyone thought it was going to last for ever.
I was born in 1977, and sometimes I imagine my parents trying to explain to me what the world was like before financial crises, when boom and bust genuinely were over. Between World War Two and the early 1970s, there was a golden age fit to make the noughties look like a squib; two and a half decades of growth; economic miracles in Germany, France, America, Japan, Greece, Taiwan.
Somehow we moved from my parents’ world of steady growth and prosperity, of improving standards for all, to my son’s world of jagged peaks and troughs, of inequality and instability. This change may be the most important development of the last half-century, yet it is barely remarked upon – it is accepted as if it were a natural event like a volcanic eruption, something humans had no control over, rather than a fracturing of social relations between people.
And that’s why my best book of a year is 2006’s The Re-Emergence of Global Finance by Gary Burn of the University of Sussex. It is a closely argued analysis of how precisely the City of London undermined the tightly controlled economic system built after the war, allowing finance to break free. Ultimately, that ruined everything.
The barely-regulated City undercut all the banks that abided by other countries’ regulations, gradually sucking more and more money offshore, destroying the carefully curated financial system that provided the golden age of capitalism of my parents’ youth. That ushered in the era of accelerating crises we have had ever since.
It’s only 256 pages long, and Palgrave Macmillan will charge you ninety-five pounds (plus delivery) to buy it new (second hand you’ll struggle to find it for cheaper than eighty). When I wish to consult it I have to go the library, and I wish I could have it on my shelves. I’m hoping that by praising its extraordinary relevance to understanding what has happened to the world in the years I’ve been alive, this short post might encourage its publishers to reissue it for a general readership. Then I could buy my own copy.
It is far too good a book for the academics to keep to themselves.