Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stealing an entire blog post...

... because it is that important. Article courtesy of VoxEU

This is not a "Great Recession". This is Great Depression #2.

Please read this article comparing global economic data now vs then. The obsessive and exclusive focus on the US has blinded us to how devastating this downturn really is.

A Tale of Two Depressions

Barry Eichengreen Kevin H. O’Rourke
4 June 2009

This is an update of the authors' 6 April 2009 column comparing today's global crisis to the Great Depression. World industrial production, trade, and stock markets are diving faster now than during 1929-30. Fortunately, the policy response to date is much better. The update shows that trade and stock markets have shown some improvement without reversing the overall conclusion -- today's crisis is at least as bad as the Great Depression.


Editor’s note: The 6 April 2009 Vox column by Barry Eichengreen and Kevin O’Rourke shattered all Vox readership records, with 30,000 views in less than 48 hours and over 100,000 within the week. The authors will update the charts as new data emerges; this updated column is the first, presenting monthly data up to April 2009. (The updates and much more will eventually appear in a paper the authors are writing a paper for Economic Policy.)

New findings:

  • World industrial production continues to track closely the 1930s fall, with no clear signs of ‘green shoots’.
  • World stock markets have rebounded a bit since March, and world trade has stabilised, but these are still following paths far below the ones they followed in the Great Depression.
  • There are new charts for individual nations’ industrial output. The big-4 EU nations divide north-south; today’s German and British industrial output are closely tracking their rate of fall in the 1930s, while Italy and France are doing much worse.
  • The North Americans (US & Canada) continue to see their industrial output fall approximately in line with what happened in the 1929 crisis, with no clear signs of a turn around.
  • Japan’s industrial output in February was 25 percentage points lower than at the equivalent stage in the Great Depression. There was however a sharp rebound in March.

The facts for Chile, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Sweden are displayed below; note the rebound in Eastern Europe.

Updated Figure 1. World Industrial Output, Now vs Then (updated)

Updated Figure 2. World Stock Markets, Now vs Then (updated)

Updated Figure 3. The Volume of World Trade, Now vs Then (updated)

Updated Figure 4. Central Bank Discount Rates, Now vs Then (7 country average)

New Figure 5. Industrial output, four big Europeans, then and now

New Figure 6. Industrial output, four Non-Europeans, then and now.

New Figure 7: Industrial output, four small Europeans, then and now.


Start of original column (published 6 April 2009)

The parallels between the Great Depression of the 1930s and our current Great Recession have been widely remarked upon. Paul Krugman has compared the fall in US industrial production from its mid-1929 and late-2007 peaks, showing that it has been milder this time. On this basis he refers to the current situation, with characteristic black humour, as only “half a Great Depression.” The “Four Bad Bears” graph comparing the Dow in 1929-30 and S&P 500 in 2008-9 has similarly had wide circulation (Short 2009). It shows the US stock market since late 2007 falling just about as fast as in 1929-30.

Comparing the Great Depression to now for the world, not just the US

This and most other commentary contrasting the two episodes compares America then and now. This, however, is a misleading picture. The Great Depression was a global phenomenon. Even if it originated, in some sense, in the US, it was transmitted internationally by trade flows, capital flows and commodity prices. That said, different countries were affected differently. The US is not representative of their experiences.

Our Great Recession is every bit as global, earlier hopes for decoupling in Asia and Europe notwithstanding. Increasingly there is awareness that events have taken an even uglier turn outside the US, with even larger falls in manufacturing production, exports and equity prices.

In fact, when we look globally, as in Figure 1, the decline in industrial production in the last nine months has been at least as severe as in the nine months following the 1929 peak. (All graphs in this column track behaviour after the peaks in world industrial production, which occurred in June 1929 and April 2008.) Here, then, is a first illustration of how the global picture provides a very different and, indeed, more disturbing perspective than the US case considered by Krugman, which as noted earlier shows a smaller decline in manufacturing production now than then.

Figure 1. World Industrial Output, Now vs Then

Source: Eichengreen and O’Rourke (2009) and IMF.

Similarly, while the fall in US stock market has tracked 1929, global stock markets are falling even faster now than in the Great Depression (Figure 2). Again this is contrary to the impression left by those who, basing their comparison on the US market alone, suggest that the current crash is no more serious than that of 1929-30.

Figure 2. World Stock Markets, Now vs Then

Source: Global Financial Database.

Another area where we are “surpassing” our forbearers is in destroying trade. World trade is falling much faster now than in 1929-30 (Figure 3). This is highly alarming given the prominence attached in the historical literature to trade destruction as a factor compounding the Great Depression.

Figure 3. The Volume of World Trade, Now vs Then

Sources: League of Nations Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, http://www.cpb.nl/eng/research/sector2/data/trademonitor.html

It’s a Depression alright

To sum up, globally we are tracking or doing even worse than the Great Depression, whether the metric is industrial production, exports or equity valuations. Focusing on the US causes one to minimise this alarming fact. The “Great Recession” label may turn out to be too optimistic. This is a Depression-sized event.

That said, we are only one year into the current crisis, whereas after 1929 the world economy continued to shrink for three successive years. What matters now is that policy makers arrest the decline. We therefore turn to the policy response.

Policy responses: Then and now

Figure 4 shows a GDP-weighted average of central bank discount rates for 7 countries. As can be seen, in both crises there was a lag of five or six months before discount rates responded to the passing of the peak, although in the present crisis rates have been cut more rapidly and from a lower level. There is more at work here than simply the difference between George Harrison and Ben Bernanke. The central bank response has differed globally.

Figure 4. Central Bank Discount Rates, Now vs Then (7 country average)

Source: Bernanke and Mihov (2000); Bank of England, ECB, Bank of Japan, St. Louis Fed, National Bank of Poland, Sveriges Riksbank.

Figure 5 shows money supply for a GDP-weighted average of 19 countries accounting for more than half of world GDP in 2004. Clearly, monetary expansion was more rapid in the run-up to the 2008 crisis than during 1925-29, which is a reminder that the stage-setting events were not the same in the two cases. Moreover, the global money supply continued to grow rapidly in 2008, unlike in 1929 when it levelled off and then underwent a catastrophic decline.

Figure 5. Money Supplies, 19 Countries, Now vs Then

Source: Bordo et al. (2001), IMF International Financial Statistics, OECD Monthly Economic Indicators.

Figure 6 is the analogous picture for fiscal policy, in this case for 24 countries. The interwar measure is the fiscal surplus as a percentage of GDP. The current data include the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update forecasts for 2009 and 2010. As can be seen, fiscal deficits expanded after 1929 but only modestly. Clearly, willingness to run deficits today is considerably greater.

Figure 6. Government Budget Surpluses, Now vs Then

Source: Bordo et al. (2001), IMF World Economic Outlook, January 2009.

Conclusion

To summarise: the world is currently undergoing an economic shock every bit as big as the Great Depression shock of 1929-30. Looking just at the US leads one to overlook how alarming the current situation is even in comparison with 1929-30.

The good news, of course, is that the policy response is very different. The question now is whether that policy response will work. For the answer, stay tuned for our next column.

References

Eichengreen, B. and K.H. O’Rourke. 2009. “A Tale of Two Depressions.” In progress.

Bernanke, B.S. 2000. Bernanke, B.S. and I. Mihov. 2000. “Deflation and Monetary Contraction in the Great Depression: An Analysis by Simple Ratios.” In B.S. Bernanke, Essays on the Great Depression. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bordo, M.D., B. Eichengreen, D. Klingebiel and M.S. Martinez-Peria. 2001. “Is the Crisis Problem Growing More Severe?” Economic Policy32: 51-82.

Paul Krugman, “The Great Recession versus the Great Depression,” Conscience of a Liberal (20 March 2009).

Doug Short, “Four Bad Bears,” DShort: Financial Lifecycle Planning” (20 March 2009).


This article may be reproduced with appropriate attribution. See Copyright (below).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How we got here




This chart comes from the weblog called "Brad Setser: Follow the Money". Notice that household borrowing has NEVER gone negative in the entire 55 year period. Prior to this one, there have been 11 post-war recessions, and none of them caused household borrowing to go negative - Until now.

I have been posting charts from time to time, each showing very long term trends with recent behavior that is highly unusual. This recession is so bad that the financial press has taken to calling it "The Great Recession". What is it that makes this particular recession so different from the other post-war recessions? Let's take a little time to learn, using a video and some charts.

First, the video. It's long, but worth every second. Elizabeth Warren lecturing in 2005, when economic times were "wonderful". The introductory chat ends and the lecture begins at about 6:20. If you don't take time to watch this, you won't understand how your country arrived where it is today.

Link Here

I think that Elizabeth Warren has done a masterful job of explaining how US families managed to arrive at their fragile condition, and how our pathetic medical uninsurance system contributes to it. But I suspect that her results were influenced heavily by the time-frame of her research. She did this research and lecture at the pinnacle of the greatest housing bubble of all time (see below).


I believe that the housing bubble is the primary reason why so many people were (and are) so debt-ridden. They purchased housing that was unaffordable, without ever pausing to question the assumption that their "housing investment" would continue to increase in value. I would go further and say that few of the purchases of overpriced housing were even necessary. Renting was and always has been an option. Just ask those who have been evicted.

People also never questioned that their pensions, jobs, and 401(k)s might be in a great deal of jeopardy either. Why is it that everyone felt so smug about the smooth continuity these things? Why did magical thinking overwhelm financial common sense?

Let's face it: The world is not as stable and benign as we would like to believe, and our leaders would like us to believe. If we are wise, we would be as prepared as possible for events that we cannot foresee. (And the housing bust wasn't even one of these unforeseeable events!)

Check out the chart below. Was it really necessary for Americans to do this to themselves??? As much as I admire Elizabeth Warren and her work, I have to say no. This entire debt orgy was utterly unnecessary.


In reality, things are considerably worse than this. A lot of people are savers (in spite of tax and interest rate disadvantages). A lot of people own their houses outright, so they have no mortgage to default on. That means that the non-savers and people with mortgages are really in VERY bad shape.

We have looked at how US savings deteriorated and debt built up. All the while no one ever worried that the world often is more volatile than we tend to believe. It's now time to share a fable from Aesop:

Once there lived an ant and a grasshopper in a grassy meadow.

All day long the ant would work hard, collecting grains of wheat from the farmer's field far away. She would hurry to the field every morning, as soon as it was light enough to see by, and toil back with a heavy grain of wheat balanced on her head. She would put the grain of wheat carefully away in her larder, and then hurry back to the field for another one. All day long she would work, without stop or rest, scurrying back and forth from the field, collecting the grains of wheat and storing them carefully in her larder.

The grasshopper would look at her and laugh. 'Why do you work so hard, dear ant?' he would say. 'Come, rest awhile, listen to my song. Summer is here, the days are long and bright. Why waste the sunshine in labour and toil?'

The ant would ignore him, and head bent, would just hurry to the field a little faster. This would make the grasshopper laugh even louder. 'What a silly little ant you are!' he would call after her. 'Come, come and dance with me! Forget about work! Enjoy the summer! Live a little!' And the grasshopper would hop away across the meadow, singing and dancing merrily.

Summer faded into autumn, and autumn turned into winter. The sun was hardly seen, and the days were short and grey, the nights long and dark. It became freezing cold, and snow began to fall.

The grasshopper didn't feel like singing any more. He was cold and hungry. He had nowhere to shelter from the snow, and nothing to eat. The meadow and the farmer's field were covered in snow, and there was no food to be had. 'Oh what shall I do? Where shall I go?' wailed the grasshopper. Suddenly he remembered the ant. 'Ah - I shall go to the ant and ask her for food and shelter!' declared the grasshopper, perking up. So off he went to the ant's house and knocked at her door. 'Hello ant!' he cried cheerfully. 'Here I am, to sing for you, as I warm myself by your fire, while you get me some food from that larder of yours!'

The ant looked at the grasshopper and said, 'All summer long I worked hard while you made fun of me, and sang and danced. You should have thought of winter then! Find somewhere else to sing, grasshopper! There is no warmth or food for you here!' And the ant shut the door in the grasshopper's face.

It is wise to worry about tomorrow today.


General Motors: Over the cliff


Best of luck to all those employed directly or indirectly by GM at getting other work. Best of luck to those who were anticipating a pension from GM as well.