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Be wary of deregulation scapegoat

Myrtle Beach Sun News – The financial turmoil has pushed the Obama campaign into the lead, and this is mostly justified. Barack Obama is more thoughtful on the economy than his opponent, and his bench of advisers is superior. But there’s a troubling side to the Democratic advance. The claim that the financial crisis reflects Bush-McCain deregulation is not only nonsense. It is the sort of nonsense that could matter.

The real roots of the crisis lie in a flawed response to China. Starting in the 1990s, the flood of cheap products from China kept global inflation low, allowing central banks to operate relatively loose monetary policies. But the flip side of China’s export surplus was that China had a capital surplus, too. Chinese savings sloshed into asset markets ’round the world, driving up the price of everything from Florida condos to Latin American stocks.

That gave central bankers a choice: Should they carry on targeting regular consumer inflation, which Chinese exports had pushed down, or should they restrain asset inflation, which Chinese savings had pushed upward? Alan Greenspan’s Fed chose to stand aside as asset prices rose; it preferred to deal with bubbles after they popped by cutting interest rates rather than by preventing those bubbles from inflating. After the dot-com bubble, this clean-up-later policy worked fine. Not so with the real estate bubble.

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