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Larry Summers: “Stagnation Might Be the New Normal”

“Larry Summers, who was nearly picked by Obama as the next Fed Chairman before for some inexplicable reason the Economist lobby deemed him “hawkish” and that he would put a halt to the Fed-Treasury cross monetization complex, is no stranger to providing hours of entertainment with his aphoristic quotes. Recall from October 2011, where he said that the solution to record debt is more debt:

The central irony of financial crisis is that while it is caused by too much confidence, too much borrowing and lending and too much spending, it can only be resolved with more confidence, more borrowing and lending, and more spending.” Larry Summers, source

Or his follow up from June 2012, where he submitted that insolvent governments can “improve their creditworthiness” by becoming more insolvent:

Rather than focusing on lowering already epically low rates, governments that enjoy such low borrowing costs can improve their creditworthiness by borrowing more not less.”  Larry Summers, source.

This of course led to his pronouncement last month that the US economy needs “bubbles” to “grow“, which promptly won him accolades from none other than his former basher Paul Krugman, best known for this line from 2002: “To fight this recession the Fed needs…soaring household spending to offset moribund business investment. Alan Greenspan needs to create a housing bubble to replace the Nasdaq bubble.” Yes, somehow this person was seen as hawkish.

Either way, it seems Larry was modestly disgruntled with the prevailing assessment of the media world ascribing to him the title of the next Krugs, in proposing a policy of endless bubble booms and busts, and as a result, he decided to take to the pages of that hallowed bastion of “free and efficient markets”, the FT, to explain what he really meant. His full essay is below but the punchline is as follows:

Some have suggested that a belief in secular stagnation implies the desirability of bubbles to support demand. This idea confuses prediction with recommendation. It is, of course, better to support demand by supporting productive investment or highly valued consumption than by artificially inflating bubbles. On the other hand, it is only rational to recognize that low interest rates raise asset values and drive investors to take greater risks, making bubbles more likely. So the risk of financial instability provides yet another reason why preempting structural stagnation is so profoundly important.

Apparently “some” does not include Larry, but what his clarification seems to clarify, is that while proposing bubbles as a policy tool is short-sighted, should they indeed arrive (and many have stated that the current “stock market” on the back of $10 trillion in central bank liquidity and another $25 trillion in Chinese bank asset increases is nothing else), well then – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, “stagnation may be the new normal.” Stagnation for the 90% mind you – not the 10% whoe actually benefit day in and day out from the Fed’s ceaseless attempt to get the world to said bridge as fast as possible…

From Larry Summers:

In the past decade, before the crisis, bubbles and loose credit were only sufficient to drive moderate growth

Is it possible that the US and other major global economies might not return to full employment and strong growth without the help of unconventional policy support? I raised that notion – the old idea of “secular stagnation” – recently in a talk hosted by the International Monetary Fund.

My concern rests on a number of considerations. First, even though financial repair had largely taken place four years ago, recovery has only kept up with population growth and normal productivity growth in the US, and has been worse elsewhere in the industrial world.

Second, manifestly unsustainable bubbles and loosening of credit standards during the middle of the past decade, along with very easy money, were sufficient to drive only moderate economic growth…..”

Full article

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