Thursday, August 23, 2012

Second Dip Coming?

A good post by Ed Harrison got me thinking about the severity of the next recession.  The economy has been weak for the last 5 years (and was unhealthy for the previous 8 or so).  Some people (the majority of the outspoken financial community) seem to think that this means we are due for a bull market / growing economy.  My take is that we are not out of the woods yet, and in fact may be taking some counterproductive measures.  Moreover, the (neo)liberal Democratic commentariat is just as counterproductive in one respect as everybody else.

Specifically, I think that efforts to use monetary policy to boost the economy may be counterproductive.  To start with, monetary policy is massively misunderstood, as noted in my March 2012 post here.  The ongoing push, mainly by the (neo)liberals, to push interest rates down even further may be deflationary in the long run.    This is obvious from the fact that interest paid by the federal government represents money given to the private sector.  In other words, lower interest payments decrease the fiscal deficit.

So what is the real problem facing the economy, and how will decreasing the fiscal deficit affect the fundamentals? The basic problem is stagnating wage incomes, which have gotten out of whack with asset prices and consumption habits. The gap has been filled with unsustainable household debt, and this is still a problem. While housing prices have come down substantially, other asset prices, including the common stocks that many depend upon for retirement, are still overvalued. Decades of investment incentives (e.g. reduction of capital gains tax) have led to excess investment.

By seeking to further reduce interest rates in order to stimulate more investment, the neo-liberals are foolishly trying to reblow the same bubble that popped 4 years ago. Only deficit spending can provide the needed boost to household income that is needed.  As noted above, reducing interest rates reduces the desparately needed fiscal stimulus.  Trying to reignite private borrowing will just exacerbate the problem. When the next downturn comes, zero interest rates will be telling indicator of deflation, not the go signal that so many seem to assumeā€¦.


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