Paul Lachine

States of Risk

Unsustainable private-debt problems must be resolved by defaults, debt reductions, and conversion of debt into equity. If, instead, private debts continue to be excessively socialized, the advanced economies will face a grim future: serious sustainability problems with their public, private, and foreign debt, together with crippled prospects for economic growth.

LONDON – The Great Recession of 2008-2009 was triggered by excessive debt accumulation and leverage on the part of households, financial institutions, and even the corporate sector in many advanced economies. While there is much talk about de-leveraging as the crisis wanes, the reality is that private-sector debt ratios have stabilized at very high levels.

By contrast, as a consequence of fiscal stimulus and socialization of part of the private sector’s losses, there is now a massive re-leveraging of the public sector. Deficits in excess of 10% of GDP can be found in many advanced economies, and debt-to-GDP ratios are expected to rise sharply – in some cases doubling in the next few years.

As Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff’s new book This Time is Different demonstrates, such balance-sheet crises have historically led to economic recoveries that are slow, anemic, and below-trend for many years. Sovereign-debt problems are another strong possibility, given the massive re-leveraging of the public sector.

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