Thursday, February 26, 2009

Turn up the printing press

So says Scott Sumner:

Many economists simply assume that the current contraction has been caused by the financial crisis. After all, isn’t that obvious? Actually, no. For nearly a year after the onset of the financial crisis nominal GDP continued growing at better than a 3% clip. Now it is plunging. Most seem to assume that this new state of affairs was somehow caused by the Lehman failure, and the subsequent loss of confidence in the entire financial system.

My view is that this reverses the causality; it seems much more plausible that the current problems in the financial system are being caused by the recent (and expected future) sharp fall in nominal GDP. An unexpected decline in nominal
GDP puts stress on a banking system that is based on nominal debt. It is even more disruptive to a system that has become highly leveraged in expectation that the Great Moderation would continue, i.e., that central banks would insure that we never again saw a repeat of the plunging nominal GDP of the early 1930s. And it is devastating in a system that was both highly leveraged and already buffeted by severe losses in residential lending.

The 2007 subprime crisis did not cause the stock market crash of 2008, as stocks were still only modestly below record levels in early June 2008. The October crash occurred when investors began to see deflation and depression on the horizon, and saw that loan losses would spread from the already weakened subprime sector into the sort of commercial and industrial loans which would have been sound had nominal GDP continued expanding at close to 5%/year.

Read the whole thing. I tend to agree. But I'm trying to get his opinion on free banking as a long term solution to financial instability.

(HT to Tyler).

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