Society has found it increasingly difficult to interpret or give meaning to the current global recession. So far, the dominant response has been to seek refuge in mechanistic, formulaic phrases: ‘The world will never be the same again.’ That tired old line, echoing similar facile pronouncements made after 9/11, is of course so vague and meaningless that it can never be proved wrong.
There have been numerous variations of this portentous diagnosis. Joseph Stiglitz argues that recent events will be to ‘market fundamentalism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to communism’. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France says American-style capitalism is finished, soon to be replaced by a more benign etatist alternative. Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and one of the public figures most associated with neo-liberalism, has acknowledged that he ‘made a mistake’ and that, quite possibly, the markets do not regulate themselves.