Monday, November 19, 2007

An economist, other things equal, should do no harm!

Paul Samuelson op-ed;

Today, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admits that nobody, including him, is able to guess how near to bankruptcy the biggest banks in New York, London, Frankfort and Tokyo might be as a result of the real estate crisis.

As one of the economists who helped create today's newfangled securities, I must plead guilty: These new mechanisms both mask transparency and tempt to rash over-leveraging...

Today, central bankers and U.S. Treasury cabinet officers cannot know whether current interest rates are too high or too low. This is surprising, but true. The safest bond interest rates are indeed low. But financial panic engendered by the burst bubble of unsound U.S. and foreign mortgage lending means that even a mammoth corporation like General Electric would find it expensive now to finance a loan needed to build a new and efficient factory.

The situation is not hopeless. New, rational regulations that discourage predatory lending and rash borrowing could help a lot. Also, as we learned during the Great Depression, the government's treasury and its central bank must be both the lenders of last resort and the spenders of last resort. Speculative markets will not stabilize themselves.

The best policy is actually the middle way: not too much freedom for market forces, and definitely not too little freedom.

Global markets have moved into a new epoch. China, India and even Russia and Ireland are currently growing at almost twice the pace of the United States and the core countries of the European Union. Gone are the days when an American president could command ocean tides to come in and go out.

The U.S. population is 5 percent of the global total, yet it enjoys per person about 20 percent of total global output. That's the picture now. Will this last?

When I come to write a newspaper article like this 10 years from now, I believe America may still be leading the pack in per-capita affluence. But in all probability, the China that has already displaced Japan as the economy with the second biggest total gross domestic product will likely have a total GDP equal to America's.

When that happens, a typical Chinese family will still be a lot poorer than a family in the United States or even Ireland. Remember, China's population is several times that of America or any European country. Don't even ask me what the U.S. dollar in 2017 will be worth.

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will have long retired on their respective ranches, but their rash 2000-2007 tax-cut-and-spend policies will by then have harvested the follies that they sowed.

Another quote from Samuelson.

No comments: