Parallels to 1937

NEW HAVEN – The depression that followed the stock-market crash of 1929 took a turn for the worse eight years later, and recovery came only with the enormous economic stimulus provided by World War II, a conflict that cost more than 60 million lives. By the time recovery finally arrived, much of Europe and Asia lay in ruins.

The current world situation is not nearly so dire, but there are parallels, particularly to 1937. Now, as then, people have been disappointed for a long time, and many are despairing. They are becoming more fearful for their long-term economic future. And such fears can have severe consequences.

For example, the impact of the 2008 financial crisis on the Ukrainian and Russian economies might ultimately be behind the recent war there. According to the International Monetary Fund, both Ukraine and Russia experienced spectacular growth from 2002 to 2007: over those five years, real per capita GDP rose 52% in Ukraine and 46% in Russia. That is history now: real per capita GDP growth was only 0.2% last year in Ukraine, and only 1.3% in Russia. The discontent generated by such disappointment may help to explain Ukrainian separatists’ anger, Russians’ discontent, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to annex Crimea and to support the separatists.

There is a name for the despair that has been driving discontent – and not only in Russia and Ukraine – since the financial crisis. That name is the “new normal,” referring to long-term diminished prospects for economic growth, a term popularized by Bill Gross, a founder of bond giant PIMCO.