Monday, March 9, 2009

Is the nation at the brink of a depression?

What a great name for someone alleging that we are on the "brink of a depression": Specter. According to an Associated Press article entitled "Specter says nation on 'brink of a depression'":

The nation is on the "brink of a depression," but there's a "reasonable chance" that the $787 billion economic stimulus package will help ease the situation, Sen. Arlen Specter said Monday.

Specter, R-Pa., said the nation's economic situation is more dire than the public has been told, but did not elaborate.

"Our economic problems are enormously serious - more serious than is publicly disclosed. And I think we're on the brink of a depression," he told reporters at the state Capitol.


"Had there been no stimulus, I think we'd have gone right off the edge," he said. "I think we're pretty close to the edge anyway, to be very brutally blunt about it."

This is the same Arlen Specter who concocted the infamous Single-Bullet Theory of the JFK assassination and here he is concocting a conspiracy theory about the U.S. government allegedly withholding information about the economy. Yeah, right.

In truth, there is no "edge" or single trigger event for a depression. A true depression is a very long, very slow downward slide. Sure, people worry about whether our current slide might have that lasting potential, but there is no evidence of that yet -- even if the dear senator might have fearmongered himself into believing so.

It may not feel like the government actions are having much of an effect, but that is because the Federal Reserve, Treasury, et al are still busy putting all of the elements into place and it will take more than just a few months to see fruit borne of those efforts.

My theory is simply that we need to finish burning off the excess "growth" of the past several years which was fueled by super-cheap credit and exotic financial instruments. That might mean a net hit of 5% to 10% to GDP, employment, income, and spending, but this is not a long-term depressionary process. Sure, such a "structural contraction" is much worse than a garden-variety inventory-based recession, but we already have enough structural supports in place to effectively preclude a true depression.

If we are at a brink, it is a brink of starting to see the positive impact of the stimulus and the Federal Reserve efforts to restart non-bank lending (what was called the "shadow banking system.")

The simple reality is that politicians love to peddle one of two things: sunny-day fantasies or deep, dark gloom. The latter gets a lot of traction these days regardless of what reality might be.

-- Jack Krupansky

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