The Return of Depression Economics

I’ve posted previously on Krugman’s new book, The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.  For those of you who want the condensed version of the book, here’s his article in last weekend’s New York Review of Books.  

An excerpt:

Some readers may object that providing a fiscal stimulus through public works spending is what Japan did in the 1990s-and it is. Even in Japan, however, public spending probably prevented a weak economy from plunging into an actual depression. There are, moreover, reasons to believe that stimulus through public spending would work better in the United States, if done promptly, than it did in Japan. For one thing, we aren’t yet stuck in the trap of deflationary expectations that Japan fell into after years of insufficiently forceful policies. And Japan waited far too long to recapitalize its banking system, a mistake we hopefully won’t repeat.

And, a quote from John Maynard Keynes at the start of the Great Depression:

“We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand.”

Finally, what the longer-term plan must include:

What we’re going to have to do, clearly, is relearn the lessons our grandfathers were taught by the Great Depression. I won’t try to lay out the details of a new regulatory regime, but the basic principle should be clear: anything that has to be rescued during a financial crisis, because it plays an essential role in the financial mechanism, should be regulated when there isn’t a crisis so that it doesn’t take excessive risks. Since the 1930s commercial banks have been required to have adequate capital, hold reserves of liquid assets that can be quickly converted into cash, and limit the types of investments they make, all in return for federal guarantees when things go wrong. Now that we’ve seen a wide range of non-bank institutions create what amounts to a banking crisis, comparable regulation has to be extended to a much larger part of the system.

We’re also going to have to think hard about how to deal with financial globalization. In the aftermath of the Asian crisis of the 1990s, there were some calls for long-term restrictions on international capital flows, not just temporary controls in times of crisis. For the most part these calls were rejected in favor of a strategy of building up large foreign exchange reserves that were supposed to stave off future crises. Now it seems that this strategy didn’t work. For countries like Brazil and Korea, it must seem like a nightmare: after all that they’ve done, they’re going through the 1990s crisis all over again. Exactly what form the next response should take isn’t clear, but financial globalization has definitely turned out to be even more dangerous than we realized.


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