Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday, 4 February 2012

When growth returns: a prediction

                No, I’m not about to get into the forecasting game – I did enough of that when young. What I am prepared to predict is the reaction of some when growth does return (as it may be in the US, and as it might one day in the UK and the Eurozone). My prediction is that some people will say that growth shows those Keynesian prophets of doom were all wrong. Look, the patient has recovered just fine without the need for any fiscal stimulus medicine.
                If people do say this, they will be wrong on two counts. First, there are good reasons for believing that aggregate demand will start to recover at some point without any additional monetary or fiscal stimulus. One of the main reasons for the recession was the need to repair balance sheets, which for consumers meant less borrowing and more (precautionary) saving, and for banks building up capital by reducing lending. Once this process is complete, demand will begin to recover. Once it does so, firms will stop delaying new investment. There is a lot more that could be said about the dynamics of demand following the Great Recession, but a return to growth at some stage is almost inevitable.  
                Second, the argument was never about growth, but about the level of activity, and unemployment. Put simply, those of us who argue for more fiscal (and monetary) action want growth to come sooner and quicker, so that unutilised labour resources can get back to work. Unemployment is not only a waste of resources but also a major cause of unhappiness (see, for example, this paper by Blanchflower). Worse still, there is the likelihood that prolonged involuntary unemployment may lead to much more permanent reductions in supply, as workers become discouraged and deskilled (see, for example, this paper by Laurence Ball). 
                So that is my forecast. In one sense I cannot wait to see if it comes true.

P.S. The above has nothing to do with this from Tyler Cowen: Tyler can do no wrong after recently listing my blog. Those interested in that particular post should see Noah Smith.

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