What's Different About "This" Recession?


I am often scolded by my liberal friends about how this past recession (2008) was different, we almost had an economic collapse, it was as bad or worse than the Great Depression, and various other items all underscoring the need for "more stimulus". They claim that we tried lower tax rates, etc.

A quick look at the composition of the stimulus spending in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (see chart) reveals that the major portion of the spending was to transfers to state and local governments (mostly used for fiscal relief, which is temporary), transfers to persons (temporary) and "Tax Cuts" - almost all of which were temporary in nature. Temporary measures simply cannot provide permanent economic growth. They run out (as they already have), and you end up with more of the original problem that has never been solved in the first place. Plus - an even bigger debt burden.

There are not many cases of economic collapse in modern history and in most cases the economies made a slow but eventual recovery. Interestingly, the advent of crisis has been traced to asset bubbles (e.g., real estate) or imbalances in the financial systems which broke down and paralyzed the real economy. Only after purging out bad debts and driving asset prices to lows, with employment levels and wages severely reduced, have the economies begun a painful and long standing process of recovery.

During such economic turndowns, deflation is a normal part of the rebuilding process. Overblown markets bottom out, prices stabilize, and the process of recovery ensues. What is different about the 2008 crisis is that instead of allowing this normal deflationary process to take place, the Federal Reserve (which, like politicians, is terrified of deflation) began an expansionary monetary policy to attempt to "shore up" the real estate, banking and investment system in the US. In fact, the Fed has printed over $3 Trillion in fiat money in just the last three years. All that has accomplished is to make us all poorer due to the debasement of our dollars.

What this does is that instead of encouraging the economy to rebound, it creates a rolling recession where asset classes never fully bottom out and recover normally. That is what is really different about "this recession". A misguided stimulus, and misguided monetary policy.