How to tame the animal spirits

by John Plender

Never allow a crisis to go to waste.

Rahm Emanuel's pithy take on the credit crunch has already entered the political lexicon. But the call by the White House chief of staff to seize the opportunities is as good a yardstick as any of how authorities worldwide are responding to the huge losses inflicted on investors, savers, homeowners and taxpayers by the great financial debacle.

As the shock of the Lehman Brothers collapse a year ago retreats further from public consciousness, some experts fear that a once-in-a-lifetime chance to put to rights the system of controls and strengthen investor protection is slipping away. Has enough been done to prevent a re-run of the biggest boom and bust since the 1929 crash?

On the positive side, the mental landscape of central bankers and regulators, widely seen as complicit in the escalation and collapse of asset prices, has been dramatically transformed since August 2007 when the financial firestorm was unleashed. In the final analysis these policymakers hold crucial sway over equity and bond markets. So it matters that their long-standing belief that monetary policy should be tightened only in response to consumer price inflation, regardless of asset price bubbles and financial imbalances, is heading for the policy graveyard.

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