Let us not forget

David Leonhardt wants to congratulate the gang that led us into the worse economic downturn in more than 70 years because it will not be as bad as the Great Depression. Yes, the downturn could be worse, but let’s be serious.

This crash was 100 percent preventable to anyone watching the economy and capable of doing 3rd grade arithmetic. The housing bubble was easy to see and it should have been obvious that its collapse would devastate the economy.

The “good” story is that we will have tens of millions of people unemployed or underemployed for years because of this gang’s incompetence. Millions of people will lose their homes. The country will needlessly lose more than $6 trillion ($40,000 per family) of output.

This is a complete disaster. Any custodian, dishwasher or shoe salesperson who showed the same degree of incompetence on their job would be fired instantly. There is no reason that the country should engage in this soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to economic policy. This crew blew it just about as badly as anyone conceivably could. Saying that you didn’t give us another great depression is not exactly a winning re-election slogan.

Dean Baker, What If the Captain of the Titanic Managed to Get Three Quarters of the Passengers on Life Boats?


Matt Taibbi has rightly directed our attention towards the talent, organization, and power that together produce damaging (for us) yet profitable (for a few) bubbles. Most of Taibbi’s best points are about market microstructure – not the technological variety usually studied in mainstream finance, but more the politics of how you construct a multi-billion dollar opportunity so that you can get in, pull others after you, and then get out before it all collapses. (This is also, by the way, how things work in Pakistan.)

In addition, of course, all good bubble-blowing needs ideology. Someone needs to persuade policymakers and the investing public that we are looking at a change in fundamentals, rather than an unsustainable and dangerous surge in the price of some assets.

It used to be that the Federal Reserve was the bubble-maker-in-chief. In the Big Housing Boom/Bust, Alan Greenspan was ably assisted by Ben Bernanke – culminating in the latter’s argument to cut interest rates to zero in August 2003 and to state that interest rates would be held low for “a considerable period”. (David Wessel’s new book is very good on this period and the Bernanke-Greenspan relationship.)

Much faster growth than expected is, of course, in today’s context a good thing. But it also brings complications. If you keep monetary policy this loose for much longer, you will feed bubbles. And if you encourage even looser monetary and fiscal policy, there will be a costly reckoning not too far down the road.

Monetary policy orthodoxy under Greenspan did not care about bubbles in the least. Now we (led by Greenspan) have massively damaged our financial system, our real economy, and our job prospects, this view is under revision.

-Simon Johnson, How To Blow A Bubble


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