Next Time Can Be Different—But It Probably Won’t Be


In This Time is Different, their exhaustive history of banking crises, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff concluded that recessions caused by financial collapses are typically (a) really deep and (b) last a really long time. So it’s no surprise that the Great Recession has produced such a long stretch of sluggish growth. Historically speaking, though, Neil Irwin reports that Reinhart and Rogoff think the United States has recovered surprisingly strongly:

The short version of their conclusion: We’re doing pretty well! Or at least, pretty well by the standards of countries emerging from banking crises.

Of 100 systemic banking crises in the United States and around the world, Reinhart and Rogoff found that it takes an average of eight years for per-capita GDP to fully recover. Of the 12 countries directly hit by the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the United States and Germany have both returned to their pre-crisis levels of per-capita GDP.

….That all raises the question of “why”. Why is it that it takes so long for nations to recover from financial crisis-induced recessions? In an intriguing but not well-developed set of concluding observations, Reinhart and Rogoff argue that it is because advanced nations do not consider the kinds of radical actions that might deal with the heart of their financial problems: Restructuring debts so as to reduce the overhang that holds back growth in highly indebted countries, allowing higher inflation to achieve the same result, introducing capital controls.

This is the key to everything. Sure, a housing bubble that sets off a financial crisis is bound to produce a deep recession. There’s no way around that. But it’s possible to recover fairly quickly. It simply takes the will to understand what’s going on and the courage to implement policies that, in other circumstances, might seem reckless and foolhardy. We could have done that this time around, but we didn’t have the political courage to try it. Even worse, the Republican Party rather clearly lacked even the desire to rescue the economy once Barack Obama became president.

Can it be different next time? From a narrow economic standpoint, Reinhart and Rogoff think it can be. From a broader policy standpoint, it’s less clear. Political courage is in short supply these days.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate