US has $2 trillion sitting in banks – it needs to be invested or we risk a new depression

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I’m at Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, CA today (I’m on staff) at the Positive Platform Design Jam, where we had Cornell historian Louis Hyman give a presentation called “Unnatural Capitalism: How the New Deal Reinvented Capitalism and Why We Need to Do It Again.” You can watch a video recording of his talk here.

In his talk, Hyman explained why today’s economic climate is like that of the Herbert Hoover era — lots of money sitting in banks because investment was too risky and there weren’t that many big things worth investing in. Hyman said depressions happen when investment fails to connect with new leading sectors. The FDR government made it easy for banks to invest in high-risk industries (by insuring the investments and giving investors tax breaks), which jumpstarted the economy. We need to get that money out of banks and into new technology, or we risk entering a new depression. Unfortunately, the federal government has cut science funding, and it’s likely the new administration won’t invest in basic science research, either.

Hyman said his only choice is to remain optimistic:

What happens if I’m not optimistic? Well, it’s over. Then Marx was right. Profits go to zero, and all of this falls apart as the strongmen take everything away from you. Why am I doubling down on optimism? It’s my only chance for survival. It’s definitely your only chance for survival.

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