Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reminders From The 1970s and 1980s: Financial Crises Happen; The Latest Wasn't Unique Or Even Rare; It Was Just A Big One

To hear some talk, one would think our Financial Crisis of 2007-08 was a bizarre event that must have been caused by exceptional circumstances. In size, it may have been somewhat unusual. It came with quite a large market bubble from private institutions going hog-wild for leveraged investments. But we don't even have to go back nearly as far as the Great Depression to find similar -- if smaller -- troubles. The market does this sort of thing quite a bit. Really, we rarely go long without such crises.

Hyman Minsky describes several in "Stabilizing an Unstable Economy", such as:

"The sharp drop in output and the explosive rise in unemployment in the third quarter of 1974 and the first quarter of 1975 were accompanied by the failure of Franklin National Bank, the troubles of the REITs, and a spate of business bankruptcies. It looked as if the economy was on the verge of a great depression; as if the sky were about to fall. But the disaster failed to occur. The combination of a massive government deficit (augmented by a tax rebate) and the lender-of-last-resort interventions contained the recession and reversed the course of the economy. 
Aside from the details of who failed and the nature of the organizations involved, the 1981-82 recession conforms quite remarkably to that of 1974-75. Once again there was a sharp decline in income and output and a dramatic rise in unemployment; once again there was a massive increase in deficits (the extreme Keynesian side of Reaganomics), once again there were both quiet trauma and spectacular declines, and once again there was a spate of lender-of-last-resort interventions by the Federal Reserve. Once again, as the unemployment and bankruptcies situations were getting worse, some six months after a major lender-of-last-resort intervention there was a sharp turnaround in income and employment. Once again the sky did not fall."
The tools of deficit spending and lender-of-last-resort intervention aren't new, radical approaches. They're tried and true; they're traditional methods of kicking the economy back into gear. They've repeatedly shown success.

Unfortunately, our efforts this time were trimmed down by deficit-hawk opposition and not sufficiently scaled to achieve a serious kick start rather than just propping up the sky a bit. And now, with budget cuts, we're on track to the usual means by which recoveries have been sabotaged by fiscal conservatism.

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