Global Disaster Recovery

The bottom line in the current global recession is that full recovery will not come any time soon, and that government policies can at best mitigate the economic consequences. Sometimes, strong recoveries follow recessions, but recovery following financial crises is always immensely painful, time-consuming, and traumatic.

PALO ALTO – With the global economy mired in recession and financial crisis, policymakers everywhere have launched a series of monetary, financial, and fiscal responses. Nevertheless, economies continue to contract, unemployment to rise, and wealth to decline.

Countries’ policy responses have ranged from modest to immense. China has undertaken a 6%-of-GDP stimulus package aimed (mostly) at infrastructure; the United States has enacted a two-year $800 billion spending and tax rebate package. The Federal Reserve and the Bank of England lowered short-term interest-rate targets to near zero and are adopting “quantitative easing” – i.e., continuous infusions of money.

Despite all this, massive excess bank reserves remain unlent. During Japan’s “lost decade,” the Bank of Japan mostly bought Japanese government bonds, whereas the Fed is trying to reopen secondary markets for securitized private lending (which in the US is as important as bank lending), buying mortgage-backed securities and consumer and business loans, as well as U.S. Treasury bonds. The Bank of England is buying UK government bonds (“gilts”). The European Central Bank, reflecting a strong inflation concern, has responded more slowly.

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