Looking Up in 2014?

CAMBRIDGE – For the past six years, I have been skeptical about the standard optimistic forecasts of the pace of US economic growth in the year ahead. Where most forecasters and policy officials saw green shoots and reasons for confidence, I saw strong headwinds that would cause an economic downturn and then a subpar recovery.

But I think the evidence for 2014 is more balanced. Although there are serious risks facing the US economy in the coming year, there is also a good chance that growth will be substantially stronger than it has been since before the recession began.

The economy was still expanding in the late summer of 2007, when I spoke at the US Federal Reserve’s annual Jackson Hole conference about serious risks to the economic outlook. I warned that house prices had begun to fall in the summer of 2006 from dangerously high levels, implying a future collapse of construction activity and large losses of household wealth. Reduced household wealth would lead, in turn, to lower consumer spending, further depressing GDP.

I also stressed that financial markets had become dysfunctional. Banks and other financial institutions had doubts about the value of various asset-backed securities on their own balance sheets and on those of potential counterparties. No one knew the real value of credit-default swaps and of the various tranches of collateralized debt obligations. Financial institutions were therefore reluctant to lend to other financial institutions. With credit flows disrupted, the economy could not continue to expand.