« links for 2008-12-22 | Main | The Value of Reliable Information »

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paul Krugman: Life Without Bubbles

It may take a lot longer than many people think for the economy to be ready to stand on its own:

Life Without Bubbles, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Whatever the new administration does, we’re in for months, perhaps even a year, of economic hell. After that, things should get better, as President Obama’s  ... economic recovery plan ... begins to gain traction. Late next year the economy should begin to stabilize, and I’m fairly optimistic about 2010.

But what comes after that? ... Too much of the economic commentary I’ve been reading seems to assume ... that ... once a burst of deficit spending turns the economy around we can quickly go back to business as usual.

In fact, however, things can’t just go back to the way they were... I hope the Obama people understand that.

The prosperity of a few years ago, such as it was — profits were terrific, wages not so much — depended on a huge bubble in housing, which replaced an earlier huge bubble in stocks. And since the housing bubble isn’t coming back, the spending that sustained the economy in the pre-crisis years isn’t coming back either. ... Consumers will eventually regain some of their confidence, but they won’t spend the way they did...

So what will support the economy if cautious consumers and humbled homebuilders aren’t up to the job? ... Something new could come along..., perhaps ... a boom in business investment.

But this boom would have to be enormous, raising business investment to a historically unprecedented percentage of G.D.P., to fill the hole left by the consumer and housing pullback. While that could happen, it doesn’t seem like something to count on.

A more plausible route to sustained recovery would be a drastic reduction in the U.S. trade deficit, which soared at the same time the housing bubble was inflating. ...

But it will probably be a long time before the trade deficit comes down enough to make up for the bursting of the housing bubble. For one thing, export growth ... has stalled, partly because nervous international investors, rushing into assets they still consider safe, have driven the dollar up against other currencies...

Furthermore, even if the dollar falls again, where will the capacity for a surge in exports and import-competing production come from? ...U.S. manufacturing ... has a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, the rest of the world may not be ready to handle a drastically smaller U.S. trade deficit. ...China’s economy in particular is built around exporting to America, and will have a hard time switching...

In short, getting to the point where our economy can thrive without fiscal support may be a difficult, drawn-out process. And as I said, I hope the Obama team understands that.

Right now, with the economy in free fall and everyone terrified of Great Depression 2.0, opponents of a strong federal response are having a hard time finding support. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, has been reduced to using his Web site to seek “credentialed American economists” willing to add their names to a list of “stimulus spending skeptics.”

But once the economy has perked up a bit, there will be a lot of pressure on the new administration to pull back, to throw away the economy’s crutches. And if the administration gives in to that pressure too soon, the result could be a repeat of the mistake F.D.R. made in 1937 — the year he slashed spending, raised taxes and helped plunge the United States into a serious recession.

The point is that it may take a lot longer than many people think before the U.S. economy is ready to live without bubbles. And until then, the economy is going to need a lot of government help.

    Posted by on Monday, December 22, 2008 at 12:33 AM in Economics, Fiscal Policy | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (148)

    TrackBack

    TrackBack URL for this entry:
    https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451b33869e20105369251c3970c

    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Paul Krugman: Life Without Bubbles:


    Comments

    Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.