Saturday, February 13, 2016

How to Prepare for the Next Big Crash (Part Deux)

As we have noted before, things are really not looking good for the global economy this year.  Whether we actually experience another financial crisis on the order of 2008 or even 1929 (or worse) is a matter of debate, but the time to prepare for such a scenario is yesterday.  At the very least, another recession is inevitable at this point by 2017 at the latest, since no economic expansion has lasted much more than eight years straight in this country (with the notable exception of 1991-2001 that lasted exactly ten years).  Granted, the expansion from July 2009 to the present mostly benefited the rich, and until around 2014 practically entirely benefited the rich, but it was still technically an expansion of the economy even if the growth was largely uneconomic in practice.  And expansions can only go on so long before a contraction (i.e. recession or depression) inevitably occurs--it's just a fundamental truth of the business cycle.

One thing is for sure--things are very different this time around at least in terms of monetary policy.  At least in 2008, interest rates were well above-zero, and could be cut to stimulate the economy (or, more accurately, stop or slow down the hemorrhaging).  When that proved to be futile, then the Feral Reserve and many of the world's other major central banks resorted to "quantitative easing" (i.e. creating money out of thin air and giving it to the banks directly).  In late 2014, the USA tapered off and ended its QE policy, and in December 2015 ended its zero interest-rate policy by raising the Fed Funds Rate to 0.25-0.50%.  But now, the central banks of the world are starting from zero or close to zero--and some banks including the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have even resorted to negative interest rates recently.  That means they are effectively charging depositors for the "privilege" of depositing money, and effectively paying borrowers to borrow money, which basically turns the world of finance upside-down.  Such negative rate territory is uncharted waters, since until a few years ago no country has ever dared to do such a thing.  And there is currently no evidence that such a move will be beneficial, and may in fact turn out to do more harm than good overall.

So monetary policy basically needs a new set of tools and a new game plan to deal with the next crisis, whenever it occurs.  The Feral Reserve and the other central banks of the world are basically still using an outdated playbook.  In the near-term, two things need to change yesterday.  First of all, they need to abandon interest-rate targets altogether for the time being, and instead focus on targeting the growth of the overall economy.  Like Paul Volcker did in 1979-1982, but done in reverse since the "inflation dragon" is not the problem this time.  Secondly, implement Quantitiative Easing for We the People in general (as opposed to the banks, which only benefits the ultra-rich) by injecting newly-created money into everyone's bank accounts.  Granted, the latter measure would probably require an Act of Congress to allow it to occur legally, but as the Feral Reserve is currently debating the legality of negative interest rates in the future, I'm sure they could find some sort of a loophole to allow it in an emergency such as a massive financial crisis.  And of course fiscal stimulus would likely be necessary as well, in additional to much needed reforms to regulate Wall Street and the big banks (a law that rhymes with "brass seagull" comes to mind, as well as a financial transactions tax and better regulation of the shadow banking system), but those two changes to monetary policy would go a long way towards preventing the next recession/crisis from turning into another 2008 or worse.  And of course the silly idea of negative interest rates needs to be abandoned as well.

But let's be brutally honest.  What we are really witnessing these days is the death of an obsolete system, one that has been kept on life support for many years now.  And eventually we will have to pull the plug on it, sooner or later.  It's just a matter of time.

No comments:

Post a Comment