Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark: The Rise of Monetary Cranks and Fixing What Ain’t Broke
Horatio: He waxes desperate with imagination.
Marcellus: Let’s follow. ‘Tis not fit thus to obey him.
Horatio: Have after. To what issue will this come?
Marcellus: Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Horatio: Heaven will direct it.
Marcellus: Nay, let’s follow him.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 4
Marcellus is right, the Fish of Finance is rotting from the head down. It stinks. As Hamlet remarked earlier in the play, Denmark is “an unweeded garden” of “things rank and gross in nature” (Act 1, scene 2). The ghost of the dead king appears to Hamlet, beckoning him to follow. In scene 5, the ghost tells Hamlet just how rotten things really are.
Denmark, is of course Wall Street or London. Far more rotten than anyone can imagine.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, we all wax “desperate with imagination,” looking for explanation. For solution. For retribution!
The financial system is rotten. Our banking regulators and supervisors failed us in the run-up to the crisis, they failed us in the response to the crisis, and they are failing us in the reform that we expected in the aftermath of the crisis.
Heaven will not save us, either. The Invisible Hand is impotent. Just wait for Scene 5!
In times like these, we thrash about, desperate for ideas, for imagination, for leadership. There’s nothing unusual about that. Read the entry, monetary cranks, by David Clark in The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, First Edition, 1987, Edited by John Eatwell, Murray Milgate and Peter Newman.
You’ll find many of the same proffered reforms bandied about now. Many of them make sense, or at least partial sense. I’ve always used that entry in my money and banking courses as an example of sensible ideas being rejected by the mainstream, labeled “crank” to discredit them.
When I use the term monetary cranks, I use it as a term of endearment. We need some cranky ideas because all the respectable ones failed us. continue reading…