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by Jorg Goldberg
Monday, May. 05, 2014 at 10:36 AM
The new indebtedness is a consequence of the crisis caused by the financial industry-and in no way owed to an excessive social state, demographic change and so forth.. There are many critics of this policy of mastering crisis by flooding the financial markets with fresh money.
THE TWO-SPEED WORLD
By Jorg Goldberg
[This 2011 article is translated from the German on the Internet, http://www.zeitschrift-marxistische-erneuerung.de. Professor Goldberg’s 2001 article “The Cure is the Sickness: the Washington Consensus” is available at http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/05/288843.shtml ]
In the spring of 2011, the economic and financial crisis that erupted at the end of 2007 – the most serious since the end of the Second World War – seems already past. The world economy has manifestly returned to the old growth path (+4%) after the 2008/2009 collapse. Germany will register its strongest economic growth (+3.6%) in 2011, an “upswing XXL” according to economics minister Bruderle. The new weakening in the US registered in the second half of 2010 and the danger of a “double dip” of the business cycle virulent several months ago, a new relapse into recession, is obviously banished. The slowing down of growth expected for 2011 must be seen as normalization after the sharp production drop and the steep re-ascent from the middle of 2009 (Table 1: PDF document in original German).
The past global growth model is shaken in its foundations. The “Great Uncertainty” is not over. In the 2007/2009 crisis, structural long-term disproportions broke out alongside business cycle disproportions. Their mastery is not in sight, despite the current growth revival. An economic-political paradigm shift as after the two other “great crises” of the last century is not recognizable even in its beginnings. The present interest constellations and political power-relations both between capital and labor and within capital prevent this paradigm shift. In addition, the situation in industrial countries on one hand and in developing- and threshold countries on the other hand diverge more and more. The IMF speaks of a “two-speed recovery” referring to the current business cycle upswing. In the past, people spoke of a “two-speed crisis.” In industrial countries, a “light” monetary policy with low interests is necessary while overheating in several threshold countries show that a streamlining of monetary policy and high interests are necessary. That will bring the financial investors of the “North” to invest increasing capital in the “South” so capital markets of threshold countries boom and threaten to trigger inflationary tendencies.
A LONG HISTORICAL PERIOD OF GROWTH
Crisis and upswing “of the two speeds” show the extent that world economic structures have changed. The global economic growth striking since the beginning of the 1990s – annual growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the world around 4% - marks one of the most dynamic and longest growth periods of the world economy. The average annual growth was only higher at 5% in the so-called (short) “Golden Age” of capitalism 12950 to 1973. In contrast the current growth period promises to be longer. For the first time, an end of the expansion cannot be predicted despite the crisis. Global growth is less balanced than 1950/73. At that time all great world regions expanded in a similarly strong way. Growth was driven by developed industrial countries with Japan in the lead (+9.3%) (Maddison 2006, p.126). In the current expansion phase, the up-and-coming threshold countries, above all of Asia, China, India and the ASEAN states, define the global production dynamic. Between 1990 and 2011 the global GDP grew annually. Expansion in threshold- and developing countries at an annual 5% rate was twice as strong as in industrial countries (calculated according to the IMF, WEO-data base). This has led to a drastic shift of the growth poles and economic weights in the world economy (Table 2, see PDF document in the original German).
The relative decline of the “triad” (North America, Japan and Western Europe) is best seen by the production share of the seven great industrial countries. Despite all decline phenomena, the US is by far the largest economic power of the earth (not mentioning military power). Beyond its economic weight, the US dominates the supra-national institutions  and the global monetary system. Moreover US standards influence the international legal system as far as it is economically relevant. The US is no longer strong enough to model the world according to its image. But it can block any global rule opposing its interests.
THE CRISIS AND THE END OF THE “GREAT MODERATION”
The outbreak of the crisis, especially its extraordinary depth, was surprising for established economies even if individual economists saw the considerable crisis potential since 2005. The deregulated international economic system before the crisis was regarded as particularly stable and seemed to permanently ensure a crisis-free balanced growth, as often explained (cf. Goldberg, 2010, p.68). A paper of the chief IMF economist Olivier Blanchard vigorously discussed in 2010 represented the prevailing view before the crisis: “The `great moderation’ lulled economists and political decision-makers into believing they knew how economic policy was formed. However the crisis forces us to put this faith in question” (Blanchard 2010). The notion of the controllability of the capitalist economy defined as the “great moderation” was never substantiated. Cyclical business cycle fluctuations occurred for more than 150 years. These fluctuations also did not disappear after 1990. Therefore the 2007/2008 economic slump did not come unexpectedly. The sequence of business cycle and crisis remained a characteristic of industrial countries although the economic development – on the backdrop of the growth of threshold countries – seems to have strengthened since the 1990s.
Cyclical business cycle slumps/ crises of industrial countries:
1981-1983 (weakest growth +0.2%/ 1982)
1990-1993 (weakest growth +1.5%/ 1993)
2001-2002 (weakest growth +1.4%/ 2001)
2007-2009 (weakest growth +3.2%/ 2009)
The cyclical slumps began mostly in the US; Europe and Japan followed with a time delay. The recoveries also usually began in the US. The slump of investment activity measured in the development of the investment rate is usually the starting point of a cyclical economic crisis – if one assumes with Marx that cyclical crises are provoked by investments of fixed capital. Conversely a revival of investments, a rise in the investment rate, initiates the upswing.
A clear decline of the investment rate (investments in % of GDP) for all industrial countries was striking:
1980-1983: from 24.4 to 21.7%
1989-1993: from 24.1 to 21.5%
2000-2002: from 22.2 to 20.1%
2006-2009: from 21.6 to 17.8%
The years 1980, 1989, 2000 and 2006 mark business cycle peaks before crises. Investment activity in industrial countries clearly weakened. The peak of the investment rate in 2006 was slightly lower than at its low point of the 1981/83 crisis. The contradiction between a falling real investment rate despite falling wage rates and rising profit rates points to a core problem of present capitalism. A surplus of capital seeking investment avoids productive investments on account of low end-demand and streams on the financial markets.
The special depth of the last cyclical economic crisis is owed to its linkage with the financial market crisis. On principle this is nothing new. With Marx we read: “Production- and trade-crises” on one side and “money crises” on the other side are mutually conditioned (MEW 23, p.151). The enormous expansion of the financial markets over decades that seems to have completely broken away from production was new. Assets were bought on credit and credits were guaranteed and treated as securities. That stock prices, real estate prices, currency reserves, securities and their derivatives have something to do with the productive economy completely fell into oblivion. The boom of assets supported itself. More price hikes were expected as long as profits could be realized through higher prices.
A shock was caused when the prices of some assets (housing in the US) did not rise but suddenly began to fall. Every owner of assets tried to be rid of these as quickly as possible. Credits were in short supply; liquidity was the command of the hour. The drama of events led to productive areas of the economy falling in a paralysis. Storerooms were cleared, investment activity stopped and planned substitute investments were cancelled.
The comparatively strong recovery after the acute phase of the crisis was overcome, Bruederle’s “Upswing WWL,” is nothing but a reaction to the past severe collapse. The cleared storerooms were filled again; the omitted substitute investments were rescheduled. In addition the state economic programs had effects. Germany did not completely step out of line of the other industrial countries. The backlog in Germany was even one percent greater while the average 2010 GDP of industrial countries was a half percent below the pre-crisis level.
THE FINANCIAL MARKET SHOCK
The special depth of the 2007/2009 crisis is a reflex of the “hypertrophy of the financial markets” (Tietmeyer 2009) that arose in the past decades. This “great crisis” is a crisis of an accumulation type marked by three moments:
• the dominance of financial accumulation over real accumulation in industrial countries;
• the uneven globalization of the financial markets (many threshold countries still control their capital traffic);
• the global economic imbalances and the unsimultaneity of development.
The dominance of financial capitalist accumulation is not a global phenomenon but a moment of unsimultaneity or “two speeds.” Gigantic financial streams are chased around the globe in seconds by computer to exploit the smallest profit differences… Many large threshold countries have increasingly controlled their financial markets since 2008. The currency of the greatest trading power and largest currency owner of the world – China – has long not been convertible. Many (not all) effects of the financial market crisis could be limited thanks to controls of capital traffic by several developing- and threshold countries. The functioning of national credit systems was maintained despite global burdens but the crisis of industrial countries was not leaped over. The threshold countries are obviously not untouched – by changes in world trade and raw material prices. However the institutions of financial management remain largely intact. In its core the world economic crisis was and is a crisis of industrial countries. Even the IMF regards capital traffic controls (“in some cases”) as appropriate to resist capital floods from industrial countries with their “high business profitability” (IMF 2011 1, p.11/13).
In industrial countries, the most important experience influencing mass consciousness is the uncertainty, non-transparency and ungovernability of events. The catastrophic news rushed in after the collapse of US investment bank Lehmann Brothers. Economic policy caught in the omnipotence-mania of the “Great Moderation” reacted in a panic-stricken way. The governments massively intervened and awarded extensive guarantees for the private economy to an extent that often surpassed the volumes of the state budget many times over. So the German government at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 promised 480 billion Euros in guarantees and financial aid for the banks made available 115 billion in credits and bonds to businesses and drafted economic programs amounting to 80 billion. In comparison, 2008 German tax revenues amounted to 228 bill Euros. The German government spent nearly three times its annual tax revenues or a third of its gross domestic product in different measures to combat the crisis.
This corresponds to the international average in industrial countries (Pfeiffer 2009, p.14ff). These enormous sums were pledged within a few weeks, often without parliamentary or public debates. No one knew how much of that had to be raised because no one knew how great the actual losses of the financial sector were. The IMF estimated the direct state payments to the financial industry of industrial countries in the crisis at 3.5% of the GDP, .5 trillion. This includes the highest payments in countries with an especially oversized financial industry, e.g. Netherlands, Great Britain and Switzerland. Germany is in midfield. Only a tenth of the promised funds were actually necessary, an enormous “overkill” of the support programs. This also illustrates the helplessness of the actors who in their panic and ignorance followed the principle “much helps much.” The fiscal burden is lower since part of the funds was repaid in the course of the recovery of the financial markets. For Germany, Deutsche Bank (Deutsche Bank Research 7/1/2010) estimates this at 25 billion Euros, one percent of the GDP.  Some countries strongly impacted by the financial crisis like the US and Great Britain estimate the direct fiscal costs of the financial crisis at two (US) to five (Great Britain) percent of the GDP.
The direct fiscal costs contributed considerably to the rise of public indebtedness. In Germany this explains nearly half of the new indebtedness of 2009; the share is even higher in other countries. According to the IMF, the new public indebtedness or borrowing of industrial countries exploded from 1.2% of the GDP in 2007 to 8.9% in 2009. Despite economic stimulation and austerity policy, the IMF only expects a decline to 4.7% by 2014. What should be charged to the account of the financial market crisis? The overdue economic crisis would certainly have turned out much milder without the collapse of the financial markets. Thus we can agree with Deutsche Bank when it formulated supported by IMF analyses: “Even if it is controversial how much the financial crisis contributed concretely to the first recession of the world economy since the Second World War and the enormous rise of public deficits, the financial crisis was certainly the most important individual cause” (Deutsche Bank Research, p.4). In 2007 Germany was distinguished for balanced public budgets. The new indebtedness is alone a consequence of the crisis caused by the financial industry – and in no way owed to an excessive social state, demographic change and so forth. This does not keep politics from social cuts and privatization of the social.
THE FINANCE INDUSTRY AS CRISIS WINNER
Even if the exact costs of the crisis are hard to estimate, the profiteers can be easily identified. The financial industry was bailed out with public funds and as a result also made money with the bailout measures and their consequences. The debate circling around the heavy debts of weaker Euro states is fit for the cabaret or political satire. German banks that produced the crisis and whose bailout is “the most important single cause” of state indebtedness castigate the supposedly unstable debt policy of the governments and profit from both the solid “risk charges” and from the acceptance of public credits (through fees). The same rating agencies that contributed to the outbreak and catastrophic course of the financial market crisis by awarding AAA-grades for junk securities are downgraded today from state securities guaranteed by the EU to junk status and keep interests high. These interests must be paid by taxpayers of the indebted countries to the financial industry.
The financial market crisis and its consequences were and are combated by the states and central banks through actually unlimited liquidity. Availability of money-creation by the central banks and assumption of risks by public institutions along with extremely low interests preserved the system from collapse. Even today while the banks that recently faced bankruptcy show record profits again, a limitation of the public liquidity supply would bring about a new financial market crisis. The “markets” only function because they are supported by the state. This policy promotes the hypertrophy of the financial markets that led to the crisis. Therefore it is not surprising that the process of asset inflation – the constant rise of asset prices – continues after a brief pause. “Thanks to the resolute and massive measures of the authorities and the fast recovery of the world economy, the expenditures for stabilizing the financial sector in developed countries are only half the usual amount for containing crises in the past” (Deutsche Bank Research). The bailout funds are connected with the re-inflation of asset prices stimulated by monetary policy.
The volume of the financial sector has hardly diminished through the crisis. Between 1995 and 2007, the liabilities of the American banking system rose from three to thirteen trillion dollars. In the same time period, a system of shadow banks arose that is not subject to any monitoring. Its liabilities soared from three to twenty trillion. While the liabilities of the banks rose again after a brief pause, they only declined slightly for the shadow banks to 16 trillion (middle 2009) (Vinals 2010, p.9). At the end of January 2011 the MSCI-index of world exchanges nearly reached its old record high of the fall of 2007.
In the neoliberal camp, there are many critics of this policy of “mastering crises” by flooding the financial markets with fresh money. The functioning of markets would be harmed when the assumption of risks by the financial industry is rewarded. Unlike the market-radical ideologues, the political-economic decision makers know that markets in the sphere of credit-money where value-creation out of nothing is possible and removed from any relation to real-economic processes tend chronically to imbalances.
A policy of limiting financial imbalances hides the danger of “inflicting collateral damage to the real economy.” For a long while, there was no cure for the danger “of combining rising asset prices and fast credit growth” (Vinals 2010, p.24). Monetary policy has to choose between pestilence and cholera. A policy of easy money encourages the formation of financial bubbles; a rigid monetary policy hinders the real economy.
That the crisis on the financial markets was the cause for the aggravation of the economic crisis is very bitter for the market-radical economic theory that is still dominant. According to the efficient market hypothesis, the hypothesis of the efficiency of markets, the financial markets represent the market in its full reality. In a little 1971 programmatic paper for the Chicago Commodity Exchange, Milton Friedman explained how the release of the currency price would lead necessarily to a stable exchange rate system after abandonment of the dollar’s bond to gold. A central role comes to speculation and development of derivatives and futures according to Friedman. The exploitation of expected price fluctuations by speculative investors would lead to stable or efficient exchange rates. Market regulations would take hold. The egoistic greedy speculator acting blindly creates the ideal just system (Vogl 2010, p.90).
That proponents of free markets castigated the greed of speculators as the cause of crises only shows they never understood the theory of the market economy. It is the cunning of the “invisible hand” of the market that leads to transforming the “natural selfishness and greed” of the rich into a means for promoting the general welfare (Smith 1759/1994, p.316). According to Friedman, speculation is the salt in the soup of the market economy. Whoever idolizes the market may not demonize speculation. Therefore the collapse of the financial markets that were recently considered very stable is the academic and ideological maximum credible accident of the theories and policies of neoliberalism referring back to Friedman. Nevertheless these financial markets remain dominant ideologically.
A POLITICAL-ECONOMIC PARADIGM SHIFT
If the past “great” crises (particularly 1929/33 and 1973/75) were starting points for political-economic paradigm shifts that could remedy at least temporarily the weaknesses of the respective accumulation regime, such a paradigm shift is not manifest now.  Current efforts to re-regulate the global financial markets occur alongside the intensified trend to privatizing systems of social security. After two years, there are cautious reforms in three areas:
• the capital holding requirements were increased and adjusted to the risk structure of active banks. The conversion of this internationally negotiated reform “Basel III” was extended temporally at the request of the banks. First in 2019 the banks will have to fulfill all the conditions.
• the nationally different compensation systems for bank managers were modified to reduce the share of the bonuses and adjust them in the long-term. An international solution has not succeeded on the European plane. So different rules are in force in the branch offices of an institute according to the country.
• the national monitoring authorities were reorganized several times without establishing a globally coordinated financial oversight.
The most important problems of the financial markets remain. A survey of the International Monetary Fund from the end of 2009 formulates politely: “Three years after the outbreak of the global financial crisis much was done to reform the global financial system and much remains to be done” (Vinals 2010, p.4). If one analyzes the complex problems described by the IMF as priority, the main challenges were not tackled in reality and solutions in most areas are unlikely. The IMF names the following five priority tasks of an effective reform:
- firstly: global coordination of financial market regulation to prevent regulatory competition and exploitation of international differences;
- secondly: strengthening financial oversight and better border-crossing coordination;
- thirdly: developing insolvency mechanisms for financial institutions and their sharing in the costs is especially important for system-relevant banks and institutes;
- fourthly: the reforms must grasp the whole financial system and not be limited to banks. Today the danger exists that risky businesses will be simply shifted to unregulated markets.
There are two fields on which effective reforms can hardly be expected in the future: development of global solutions of financial market regulation to eliminate regulatory competition and the capture of system risks, that is a change of macro-economic policy.
LIMITS OF GLOBALIZATION
Effective solutions in all five areas are only conceivable as globally coordinated projects given the (uneven) globalization of money- and capital streams. These projects only partly succeeded in the past in the case of “Basel III.” Effective regulations always rest on the profitability of the respective financial industry and are subject to the competition of locations and national financial markets. Strict regulations and higher interests or taxes provoke capital migrations and stimulate the financial markets to strive for arbitrage profits.
A classic example are the carry trades in which the interest-distinctions between different currency zones are exploited. Different national regulations of financial markets and great interest-differences in uncontrolled capital traffic lead to further inflation of the financial sphere because they open up additional chances for speculation. Strong countries, particularly of the former periphery that do not depend on capital imports have already reacted to this by strengthened capital market controls. “Re-nationalization” of capital traffic is not a fit solution in the long run. Border-crossing capital traffic is indispensable for uneven economic development of countries and regions.
Realizing a globally coordinated regulation of the financial markets is all the more difficult since there is no hegemonial economic power strong enough to enforce its rules worldwide. After the 1929/33 crisis and subsequent world war, the hegemonial power US set the rules in the capitalist part of the world while a re-nationalization of the economy predominated in the socialist part. After the 1971/73 collapse of the system of Bretton Woods, there was the attempt to prescribe world economic rules in the framework of the G7, the “triad” North America, Europe and Japan. The rise of former countries of the periphery has made this group superfluous. Its replacement by the G20 does not create any new center.
The interest-differences between the participating states are too great. The starting points and problems are too varied. A new hegemonial constellation is not in sight. Even if a “dangerous power vacuum” seems exaggerated – as a consequence of the relative descent of the “triad” – a power that could define its interests as global interests in all relevant areas does not exist. Therefore negotiations stagnate in all areas – financial market regulation, trade policy and climate agreements (Kappel 2011). Genuine global solutions must be carried out and controlled by independent and strong international institutions given the problems in the crisis (financial markets, trade policy, natural re4sources, climate problematic). The International Monetary Fund has only had trifling success in playing a systemic role concerning the financial markets. A genuine supra-nationality of regulation in the pressing area of financial markets is not in sight.
One touchstone is the treatment of the “too-big-to-fail” program, the control of “Systemically Important Financial Institutions” (SIFI), system-relevant institutes. The newly established international “Financial Stability Board” identified 30 institutes worldwide last fall (including Deutsche Bank and the Alliance) that are too big and linked that they could plunge the world again into chaos. Unfortunately it is always an open question how to cushion the financial system risks produced by the SIFIs, the IMF complained in its report on global financial stability in January 2011 (IMF 2011 II, p.9).
The new head of the mammoth British bank, Bob Diamond, described how the stricken institutes think at a hearing before the financial committee of the British Lower House: “The time of pangs of conscience and apologies is over.” In the meantime the independent British bank commission proposes structural measures for avoiding future system risks – without splitting up system-relevant institutes. Thus nothing changes in the second largest financial center of the world. “The banks can return to the day’s agenda largely undisturbed.” (Neue Zuricher Zeitung, 1/25/2011).
REALIGNMENT OF ECONOMIC POLICY
The realization of a new macro-economic orientation seems similarly complicated. This appears most clearly in monetary policy where the dilemma is obvious. The foundation of the past orientation – as Blanchard and others describe – was the belief that central banks only had to ensure stable inflation rates where the criterion today is the development of consumer prices. Economic policy (concretely monetary policy) had a goal – low inflation – and an instrument – interest rate policy, Blanchard said. “There will hardly be an under-utilization of production capacities as long as inflation risks are low and stable.” (p.3) This seemed achieved in the decades before the crisis: “The core inflation in most developed industrial countries was stable up to the outbreak of the crisis.” (p.7) That was only true for consumer prices, not for the prices of real estate, stocks, securities and so forth, that is the prices of assets whose inflation ultimately led to the financial market crisis.
Preventing such development in the future seems simple: expand the goal of monetary policy from stable consumer prices to stable asset values. Thus central banks had to step on the brake in monetary policy (raising central bank interest rates, scarcity of central bank money) when asset prices rose faster than the gross domestic product. Such a monetary policy paradigm shift is discussed. Given the present basic problem, the continuing surplus capital seeking investment, such an expansion of the goal would force central banks to keep interests constantly high and money constantly tight or scarce. The result would be fatal. Credits to the real economy would be scarce and expensive. In view of high interests, the incentive for money-capital investments would be even greater. If there is now speculation with low interests on price gains, the running profits would be in the center with high interests. Permanently low interests and stable asset prices would be necessary to promote growth and urgently necessary investments for adjusting production systems to resource-saving and climate-friendly methods. Real investments would only be attractive again for private investors with low profits on financial investments.
This cannot be achieved by monetary policy alone. Ultimately a light investment-friendly monetary policy must be combined with a rigorous control of the financial sphere limiting this sphere to its core function, financing production. Even an honorable Keynesian fiscal- and distribution policy would not be enough given the hypertrophy of the financial markets. An expansion of state economic policy to the field of capitalist institutions would be necessary, supplementing the classical political-economic instruments with an active institution policy. This idea is not completely absent in modern economics. The awarding of the last three Nobel Prizes for economics (2008 Krugman; 2009 Ostrom/ Williamson; 2010 Diamond/ Mortensen/ Pissarides), above all the award to Ms. Ostrom (community goods) could be interpreted in this direction. All the laureates analyzed institutional conditions for functioning markets. On the other hand, the narrow focus of the prized research (particular markets were the theme) shows that mainstream economics has long not reacted to the necessity of a fundamental chance of course in macro-economic policy after the financial market crisis.
The “new macro-economic framework” presented by the chief IMF economist Blanchard consists only in the admission that expansive fiscal policy and capital traffic controls could be necessary in acute crisis phases. This is admitted in a disarming way in the mentioned paper: “The crisis was not caused by economic policy. However flaws of the past political-economic framework forced economic decision-makers to test new policies in the crisis and presses us to reflect on a new political-economic architecture in the post-crisis era. The general framework in many regards should remain the same… The combination of traditional monetary policy with instruments of regulation (regulation tools) and the design of better automatic anti-cyclical stabilizers in financial policy would be very promising lines of thought.” This is not more than repairing particular aspects and in no case advances a new political-economic framework. This framework should remain unchanged.
The crisis erupting in 2007/2008 could only be overcome through the massive infusion of public funds, the flooding of financial markets with central bank money and lowering the interest rate. The price is a new enlargement of those problems responsible for the special depth of the crisis: the inflation of asset values and the hypertrophy of the financial markets. The necessary adjustment of economic policy to the new amalgam of dangers, that is a new political-economic paradigm, is not in sight. The rise of new global economic powers and the great strength of the US hinder the conversion of globally-coordinated political-economic measures – given the great interest differences. There is no power now that can force its concept on the world. The non-simultaneity of development amid global interdependence, the “two speeds” of the world, make difficult internationally-coordinated measures. There are neither national nor international authorities that could enforce the necessary institutional controls of the financial industry, at least of the 30 system-relevant financial institutes. This is reflected on the plane of mainstream economics that has no answer to the necessity of a new political-economic paradigm beyond Keynesianism and neoliberalism.
1) The differences in dollar prices and exchange rates on one side and purchasing power parities on the other side expresses differences in the development of productive power… The purchasing power of a US dollar is greater in China than in the US or on the world market. This is considered in calculating purchasing power parities.
2) Even after reform of the voting shares in the International Monetary Fund, the US will keep a blocking minority so it can block any political change.
3) Goldberg (2010)
4) Asset bubbles are impossible because efficient financial markets always generate the right prices – according to Milton Friedman’s long dominant theory.
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