Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Defense of Greenspan-ism

from Brad DeLong:
But so far--look: In the dot-com boom of the 1990s we were the winners. The rich investors of America built out a huge amount of fiber-optic cables and conducted an enormous amount of experimentation in business models from which we all benefit. In the real-estate boom of 2000s the rich investors of America and the world built an extra four million houses and loaned the rest of us money at remarkably low interest rates for five years. Those who moved into newly-built houses with teaser-rate mortgages wish those teaser rates would continue--but they won't, and in the meantime they got to live in a nice house for quite a low rent. Those of us who took out big home equity loans wish the low interest rates would continue--but they won't. And those of us who felt rich because our house values have appreciated wish we still could think of ourselves as sleeping on a pile of gold--but we can't.

The dot-com bubble and the real-estate bubble were bad news for the investors in Webvan, WorldCom, Countrywide, FNMA, and securitized subprime mortgages. But they were, by and large, good news for the rest of us. And investors are supposed to take care of themselves.

Now we are not yet out of the woods. If the tide of financial distress sweeps the Fed and the Treasury away--if we find ourselves in a financial-meltdown world where unemployment or inflation kisses 10%--then I will unhappily concede, and say that Greenspanism was a mistake. But so far the real economy in which people make stuff and other people buy it has been remarkably well insulated from panic at 57th and Park and on Canary Wharf.

Or, as Keynes said (General Theory, ch. 22):

Thus the remedy for the boom is not a higher rate of interest but a lower rate of interest! For that may enable the so-called boom to last. The right remedy for the trade cycle is not to be found in abolishing booms and thus keeping us permanently in a semi-slump; but in abolishing slumps and thus keeping us permanently in a quasi-boom.
See also, more recently, The Onion.

At the risk of sounding Gramm-esque, it is worth bearing in mind that the main macro aggregates - GDP growth, unemployment and inflation - still aren't looking too bad by historical standards....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Defend the U.S. Dollar--now that Paulson has his Blank check of $800 billion of U.S. Taxpayer dollars, we will enter the age of socialism, bar none.