A time traveller from 300 years ago would be awed by new technologies and social changes. But the disoriented extra-temporal visitor would find some aspects of finance very familiar. Many of today’s monetary arrangements are historical relics. Take, for example, debt.
If Greece had its own currency, the country’s crisis would attract little attention. On the contrary, the economic news from Athens would be all too familiar to followers of countries which have trouble increasing their citizens’ average annual income to much above $25,000. Such middle-income countries have a habit of running into fiscal or financial trouble.
What does credit do after it has finished the job it was designed for? The supply of credit ought to stop at funding productive activity. But the reality is different. Surplus credit fuels dangerous asset price inflation and funds profligate governments. As leverage increases, so too does the risk of crisis and recession.
I have a dream: a world without debt, and with much more equity. It’s not just that summer holidays are a good time for fantasising. The fifth anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy is a month away, and regulators have recently forced both Deutsche Bank and Barclays to issue more shares.