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A Failed Global Recovery

NEW HAVEN – The global economy is in the midst of its second growth scare in less than two years. Get used to it. In a post-crisis world, these are the footprints of a failed recovery.

The reason is simple. The typical business cycle has a natural cushioning mechanism that wards off unexpected blows. The deeper the downturn, the more powerful the snapback, and the greater the cumulative forces of self-sustaining revival. Vigorous V-shaped rebounds have a built-in resilience that allows them to shrug off shocks relatively easily.

But a post-crisis recovery is a very different animal. As Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have shown in their book This Time is Different, over the long sweep of history, post-crisis recoveries in output and employment tend to be decidedly subpar.

Such weak recoveries, by definition, lack the cushion of V-shaped rebounds. Consequently, external shocks quickly expose their vulnerability. If the shocks are sharp enough – and if they hit a weakened global economy that is approaching its “stall speed” of around 3% annual growth – the relapse could turn into the dreaded double-dip recession.