Friday, March 20, 2009

a more rational approach to a New Era in economics

Niall Ferguson makes sense to me:


There is something desperate about the way people on both sides of the Atlantic are clinging to their dog-eared copies of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory. Uneasily aware that their discipline almost entirely failed to anticipate the current crisis, economists seemed to be regressing to macroeconomic childhood, clutching the multiplier like an old teddy bear.

The harsh reality that is being repressed is this: the Western world is suffering a crisis of excessive indebtedness. Many governments are too highly leveraged, as are many corporations. More importantly, households are groaning under unprecedented debt burdens. Average household sector debt has reached 141 per cent of disposable income in the United States and 177 per cent in the United Kingdom. Worst of all are the banks. Some of the best-known names in American and European finance have balance sheets forty, sixty or even a hundred times the size of their capital. Average U.S. investment bank leverage was above 25 to 1 at the end of 2008. Eurozone bank leverage was more than 30 to 1. British bank balance sheets are equal to a staggering 440 per cent of gross domestic product

The delusion that a crisis of excess debt can be solved by creating more debt is at the heart of the Great Repression. Yet that is precisely what most governments currently propose to do.

The United States could end up running a deficit of more than 10 per cent of GDP this year (adding the cost of the stimulus package to the Congressional Budget’s optimistic 8.3 per cent forecast). Nor is that all. Even before Barack Obama entered the White House, his predecessor’s administration had already committed $7.8 trillion in the form of loans, investments and guarantees. Now the talk is of a new “Bad Bank” to buy the toxic assets from the banks which, despite the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Programme, are still in deep trouble. No one seems to have noticed that there is already a Bad Bank. It is called the Federal Reserve System, and its balance sheet has grown by 150 per cent—from just over $900 billion to more than $2 trillion—since this crisis began, partly as a result of purchases of undisclosed assets from banks. .."

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