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Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't Expect a Quick Recovery

One of the reasons I've argued this recovery will be slow is that we cannot simply bounce back to where we were before the problems started as we could in some past recessions. We need to move resources out of housing, out of finance, and out of autos, and those resources need to find productive employment elsewhere in new or growing industries, and that is not very likely until things improve. Consumers need to save more and consume less, as they are starting to do, and this too will require adjustment. So does this mean we should expect a U-shaped recovery instead of a V-shaped recovery? Robert Reich says it's neither, this is an X-recovery:

When Will The Recovery Begin? Never., by Robert Reich: The so-called "green shoots" of recovery are turning brown in the scorching summer sun. In fact, the whole debate about when and how a recovery will begin is wrongly framed. On one side are the V-shapers who look back at prior recessions and conclude that the faster an economy drops, the faster it gets back on track. And because this economy fell off a cliff late last fall, they expect it to roar to life early next year. Hence the V shape.

Unfortunately, V-shapers are looking back at the wrong recessions. Focus on those that started with the bursting of a giant speculative bubble and you see slow recoveries. ... That's where the more sober U-shapers come in. They predict a more gradual recovery...

Personally, I don't buy into either camp. In a recession this deep, recovery ... depends on consumers who, after all, are 70 percent of the U.S. economy. And this time consumers got really whacked. Until consumers start spending again, you can forget any recovery, V or U shaped.

Problem is, consumers won't start spending until they have money in their pockets and feel reasonably secure. But they don't have the money, and it's hard to see where it will come from. They can't borrow. Their homes are worth a fraction of what they were before, so say goodbye to home equity loans and refinancings. ... Unemployment continues to rise, and number of hours at work continues to drop. Those who can are saving. Those who can't are hunkering down...

Don't expect businesses to invest much more without lots of consumers hankering after lots of new stuff. And don't rely on exports. The global economy is contracting.

My prediction, then? Not a V, not a U. But an X. This economy can't get back on track because the track we were on for years -- featuring flat or declining median wages, mounting consumer debt, and widening insecurity, not to mention increasing carbon in the atmosphere -- simply cannot be sustained.

The X marks a brand new track -- a new economy. What will it look like? Nobody knows. All we know is the current economy can't "recover" because it can't go back to where it was before the crash. So instead of asking when the recovery will start, we should be asking when and how the new economy will begin. ...

    Posted by on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 12:16 AM in Economics | Permalink  Comments (22)


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