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No, We Don’t “Need” a Recession

Business cycles can end with a rolling readjustment in which asset values are marked back down to reflect underlying fundamentals, or they can end in depression and mass unemployment. There is never any good reason why the second option should prevail.

BERKELEY – I recently received an email from my friend Mark Thoma of the University of Oregon, asking if I had noticed an increase in commentaries suggesting that a recession would be a good and healthy purge for the economy (or something along those lines). In fact, I, too, have noticed more commentators expressing the view that “recessions, painful as they are, are a necessary growth input.” I am rather surprised by it.

Of course, it was not uncommon for commentators to argue for a “needed” recession before the big one hit in 2008-2010. But I, for one, assumed that this claim was long dead. Who in 2019 could say with a straight face that a recession and high unemployment under conditions of low inflation would be a good thing?

Apparently, I was wrong. The argument turns out to be an example of what Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman calls a “zombie idea … that should have died long ago in the face of evidence or logic, but just keeps shambling forward, eating peoples’ brains.” Clearly, those who claim to welcome recessions have never looked at the data. If they did, they would understand that beneficial structural changes to the economy occur during booms, not during busts.

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