Matthias Thiemann, "Current Capitalism Lives of Asset Bubbles", in Fellows : Crises financières, crises bancaires, n° 13, October 2016.
Are financial crises inherent to capitalism?
Yes, I am convinced that financial crises are inherent to capitalism. Capitalism is, as American economist Hyman Minsky would point out, a system that needs to finance capital goods over time. It’s exactly the financing of capital goods through credit over time that explains both the dynamism of capitalism – because it is at the core of the credit creation that fuels the system – but at the same time it is at the core of its fragility. Financing capital goods requires certain agents to take decisions in the present about an anticipated future and, in case this anticipated future sharply deviates from expectations, these agents committed to service those cash flows are brought into severe difficulties, hence the potential for financial crisis. Here we can draw again on Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis. He points to cyclical developments: as the system appears more stable, more and more capitalist agents move from stable sources of funding to the refinancing of their projects on financial markets, which makes the system more fragile. In case the refinancing of these projects is not available, a series of defaults occurs, amplifying the initial problems. In its most serious form, those cascades of default can lead to a balance sheet recession, a long and painstaking process in which balance sheets of lenders slowly return to a viable state.