Welcome to a world of diminished expectations

by Willem Buiter

From a cyclical perspective, things look bad for Europe, the US and most of the global economy. My contribution to summer cheer is to note that longer-term local and global economic prospects are likely to be worse than expected. So welcome to boom and bust. Welcome to subdued long-term growth prospects.

The ancient Greeks knew hubris to be one sin the gods will punish. When Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, announced “the end of boom and bust”, Jove must have checked his thunderbolts. Capitalist market econ­omies are inherently cyclical. The private credit system is intrinsically prone to alternating bouts of irrational euphoria and unwarranted depression. Busts play an essential role. They clean up the mess created during the boom by inflated expectations, overoptimistic plans and unrealistic ventures. These become embodied in unsustainable household debt, productive capacity with no foreseeable use, excessive corporate and financial sector leverage and enterprises whose only asset is hope. The correction is painful, even brutal: unemployment rises, as do defaults, repossessions and bank­ruptcies. We entered such a cathartic phase around the turn of the year in both the US and the UK. Continental Europe is not far behind.

The remainder of this column can be read here . Debate from our panel of economists appears below.

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