Taming the free market

France remains the harbinger of new ideas. Forty years after the tectonic shift sparked by the events of May 1968 that shook established values across the world, this time a bourgeois – though courageous – reformist politician seeks to renew capitalism. «I want to be the president who will try to make capitalism moral,» he said in accepting the Gaullists’ nomination a year ago. At a recent press conference, the French president announced that liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen of India would advise him on «more comprehensive» ways of measuring France’s economic progress. True to form, Greek politicians are deaf to such issues. But in the United States, Germany or France it is natural for economists and politicians to discuss measures to protect societies against the invasion of equity and hedge funds. The credit crisis in the US has found its way to Europe and Asia. The US is facing the specter of recession and European growth is slowing down. Experts on both sides of the Atlantic are criticizing the central banks for failing to mobilize the monitoring mechanisms that would have curbed the unchecked bank loans to businesses and consumers. Bonus-hunting loan managers compete ferociously to maximize profits for themselves and their masters in untried or not-so-scrupulous ways. The free global market has given fresh impetus to international growth. It was thanks to the lifting of trade barriers that China and India achieved growth and millions of people saw a rise in living standards. But market forces alone do not ensure even wealth distribution and social justice. In fact, in the US the phenomenon of uneven wealth distribution is growing. Sarkozy’s point that an unfettered free market does not serve the needs of European citizens could mark a fresh beginning for a moral regeneration of capitalism.