A second Great Depression is still possible

The stock market’s hitting 10,000 again. Politicians and bankers, anxious for recovery (for votes & bonuses), are claiming victory and saying the recovery is on.  I say not so fast.  Maybe we recover, but we’ve been credit-aholics.  Like a recovering alcoholic, relapse is a very real danger.  As Palley points out below, the econometric models are likely misleading.

A second Great Depression is still possible

October 11, 2009 4:37pm

by FT

By Thomas Palley

Over the past year the global economy has experienced a massive contraction, the deepest since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But this spring, economists started talking of “green shoots” of recovery and that optimistic assessment quickly spread to Wall Street. More recently, on the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers crash, Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, officially blessed this consensus by declaring the recession is “very likely over”.

The future is fundamentally uncertain, which always makes prediction a rash enterprise. That said there is a good chance the new consensus is wrong. Instead, there are solid grounds for believing the US economy will experience a second dip followed by extended stagnation that will qualify as the second Great Depression. Some indications to this effect are already rolling in with unexpectedly large US job losses in September and the crash in US automobile sales following the end of the “cash-for-clunkers” programme.

That rosy scenario thinking has returned to Wall Street should be no surprise. Wall Street profits from rising asset prices on which it charges a management fee, from deal-making on which it earns advisory fees, and from encouraging retail investors to buy stock, which boosts transaction fees. Such earnings are far larger when stock markets are rising, which explains Wall Street’s genetic propensity to pump the economy.

As for mainstream economists, their theoretical models were blind-sided by the crisis and only predict recovery because of the assumptions in the models. According to mainstream theory, it is assumed that full employment is a gravity point to which the economy is pulled back.

Empirical econometric models are equally questionable. They too predict gradual recovery but that is driven by patterns of reversion to trends found in past data. The problem, as investment professionals say, is that “past performance is no guide to future performance”. The economic crisis represents the implosion of the economic paradigm that has ruled US and global growth for the past thirty years. That paradigm was based on consumption fuelled by indebtedness and asset price inflation, and it is done.

via FT.com | Economists’ Forum | A second Great Depression is still possible.