07 November 2009

Krugman Declares "Mission Accomplished," Maginot Line Completed

The triumph of financial engineering based on an analysis of the past.

Conscience of a Liberal
The story so far, in one picture

By Paul Krugman
November 3, 2009

World industrial production in the Great Depression and now:

Jesse here. This chart is a bit deceptive because it compares two periods of time based on the start of the crisis. It would be interesting to compare the two crises from the start of the Fed's expansion of the monetary base. As I recall, the early 20th century Fed did not react this way until 1931 and did so in two stages. Ok, Ben was quick out of the starting gate with a massive quantitative easing. Score one for the Fed. They are quick on the draw when it comes to monetization.

And there is little hazard that Ben will tighten prematurely out of fear of inflationary forces, having learned at least that lesson from what might prove to be a simplistic historical comparison.

It would be unjust not to note that the 1930's Fed struggled a bit with the difficulties of an entirely different type of commercial banking structure and regulatory structure, and the restraints of a gold standard.

But at the heart of it, the comparison may be irrelevant. The genuine challenge in this era of fiat currency will be to avoid the 'zombification' of the economy, the appearance of vitality with none of the self-sustaining growth.

It may be discovered that the key to coming out of a crisis permanently is not how quickly and dramatically one inflates the money supply, or even how long one maintains it, and how many stimulus programs one can create, but rather how quickly and capably a country can reform, can change the underlying structures that caused the problem in the first place.

Japan has been doing it slowly because of its embedded kereitsu structure and government bureaucracy supported by a de facto one party system under the LDP. In the 1930's the impetus for reform was overturned by a strict constructionist Supreme Court and an obstructionist Republican Congress. The story of our time might be the perils of regulatory and political capture.
Before this Administration declares "Mission Accomplished" and high fives its victorious recovery, they may wish to consider that they have done the obvious quickly in one dimension, but have done very little to change the dynamics which created the crisis in the first place, choosing instead to support the status quo to a fault, partly out of ignorance and to some extent because of a pervasive and endemic corruption of the political process.

There are three traits that make a nominal bounce in production fueled by a record expansion in the monetary base a success: sustainable growth without subsidy, sustainable growth without subsidy, and sustainable growth without subsidy. And this can only be achieved by changing the game, reforming what was wrong with the system in the first place, if this is what caused the crisis.

Our forecast is that Ben and Team Obama are failing badly because they are fighting the last war, in the almost classic style of incompetent generals who lost the early stages of the Second World War because they were using the game plan from the First. And plans for a Vichy-style government establishing l'état financière seem to be well underway, in a general surrender of the goverance of the nation to the econorati.

For all its flaws, at least the Clinton Administration used to conduct polls to see which way the public was leaning, and took its cues from that. The Obama Administration blatantly ignores public outrage, and takes its calls from Wall Street, literally, and forms its policy and laws around what they want, or at most, will grudgingly accept.