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2008年诺贝尔经济学奖得主。 美國經濟學家及紐約時報的專欄作家,普林斯頓大學經濟系教授,是新凱恩斯主義经济学派代表。1953年出生美國紐約,约翰·F·肯尼迪高中毕业。1974年就讀耶鲁大學,1977年在麻省理工學院取得博士學位,受到经济学家诺德豪斯的注意。畢業後先後於耶鲁大学、麻省理工及史丹福大學任教。2000年起,成為普林斯頓大學經濟系教授。

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April 6, 2009, 12:23 pm

Balance sheets and the trade cycle (somewhat wonkish)

Paul Kedroskyhas the slides from a presentation by Nomura’s Richard Koo on “balancesheet recessions”, a meme that’s been gaining ground lately. I’m in theprocess of trying to think this stuff through more formally; here’s aquick note about where my thoughts are tending.

As I see it, the balance sheet recession approach to the businesscycle is a close cousin to a once-influential but largely forgottenliterature: the “non-linear” theory of the business cycle. The originalversion, by John Hicks (”A contribution to the theory of the tradecycle”), set up the basics. The idea was that in the short run theeconomy is unstable: an economic boom causes rising investmentspending, which further feeds the boom, and so on, while a slumpdepresses investment spending, deepening the slump, etc.. Hicks’s bigcontribution was to add limits to the boom and slump: a “ceiling” setby the economy’s capacity, a “floor” set by the fact that investmentcan’t go negative.

The cycle then went like this: the economy races to the ceilingduring a boom, and stays there for a while. Eventually, however,overcapacity builds up, investment starts to fade, and aself-reinforcing slump takes hold. This pushes the economy to thefloor. The depressed economy eventually revives when a combination ofdepreciation and growth in sources of demand not tied to the businesscycle starts to create a shortage of capacity, which leads to an upwardtrajectory, and the whole thing starts all over again. (Yes, we can dothis with equations …)

What Koo is arguing for is something similar, but with debt playingthe role played by capacity in the old trade cycle. When the economy isgrowing, taking on more debt seems OK, and rising debt feeds risingspending, which feeds the boom. Eventually growth has to slow, however,and the debt starts to drag down spending, which reduces income,forcing more deleveraging, and so on to the floor. Then debt slowlygets paid down, until the cycle is ready to start again.

This suggests a prolonged slump. In particular, it tells us not toget too euphoric over “green shoots” and all that. Yes, we may — may —be approaching the “floor”, where the free fall ends. But it can take along time, many years, before balance sheets are sufficiently repairedfor the economy starts to climb off that floor.

It also suggests a positive role for fiscal expansion — and ananswer to the line that debt got us into this, so how can it get usout? What this style of modeling suggests is that over the course ofthe whole cycle, the problem isn’t so much excessive debt as the factthat everyone tries to increase or reduce debt at the same time. Whatdeficit spending can do is stabilize things: you have one big player inthe economy that is increasing debt when the economy is stuck in aparadox-of-thrift world, then pays that debt down when the privatesector is happy to borrow.

Much more when I have time to do a proper writeup.

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