Niall Ferguson: No One Has The Faintest Idea When The Economy Will Recover

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Harvard AND Oxford Professor, thank you!

Niall Ferguson: No One Has The Faintest Idea When The Economy Will Recover

by Niall Ferguson

May 29 (FT) —He thinks Obama’s economic forecasts are as much of an outlier possibility as another Great Depression. He’s also concerned, as we are, that there’s just not enough money in the world to finance all the borrowing the U.S. and other big countries will be doing over the next few years.

Barron’s: Is the worst over for the global stock markets and the economy?

Ferguson: It may look that way, but appearances can be deceptive. The stock market has actually tracked almost perfectly its downward movements between 1929 and 1931. Now that doesn’t mean that we are going to repeat the Great Depression. I don’t think we will, because the policy responses have been different. It would be excessively optimistic, however, to conclude from a relatively small set of green shoots in the economic data that we are all going to live happily ever after. It is certainly way too early to say the Obama administration is right that the economy is going to grow at 3% next year and 4% in 2011. I find that scenario as implausible as a rerun of the Great Depression…

When will the recovery come?

Nobody has the faintest idea what next year is going to look like. It isn’t clear yet that this is just a common recession. This is probably more like a slight depression. We won’t see a big V-shaped bounce. Much of the consumption growth in the decade up to 2007 was fueled by things like mortgage-equity withdrawal. That game is clearly over. Strip that out, and you are looking at an annual economic-growth rate in the U.S. closer to 1½% to 2% than 4%.

What is your disagreement with New York Times columnist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman about massive government borrowing?

This is one of the most interesting questions of the moment. The view of Keynesians, their Econ. 101 textbooks and the Nobel laureate at Princeton is that the world has an excess of savings over investments and therefore the deficit can be almost any size and it will be financed.

That is the problem with violating ‘Lerner’s Law’ and making the argument in the wrong paradigm. It invariably gets shot down like this:

My sense is that if the U.S. government tries to borrow $1.8 trillion in a year, that is an awful lot of bonds to sell at the same time [as] all the other major governments. It looks to me like a supply-and-demand story, and what tends to happen in those stories, regardless of the macro environment, is that the price of bonds tends to fall. The U.S. 10-year Treasury rate has moved up more than 100 basis points [one percentage point] since January. There is a problem in Britain, where the Bank of England had to protest about fiscal stimulus because it was causing a huge interest-rate problem. It is also happening here.

It is the blind arguing with the blind.

With this attitude it very well may take a world war to generate enough deficit spending to restore output and employment.