Is the United States economy headed for a Japan-style lost decade? Evoking our February, 2008, item "Faster Markets," Slate's Daniel Gross suggests that the deep, ongoing recession in the United States may unfold much more quickly than Japan's analogous bubble-bust of the 1990s. This is good stuff:
Why the accelerated pace? It has to do in part with changing global circumstances. Nishimura argues that both crises started because problems in the property and credit markets contributed to an adverse feedback loop between financial distress and economic activity. But information, events, and distress move much more quickly around the globe today than they did in the 1990s. With just-in-time production systems, and with 21st-century communications technology, bad news travels much more quickly--and farther. In the 1990s, much important exchange of international market information was still done by fax. In addition, traders can now act more quickly on real-time bad news. In the early 1990s, analysts had to wait several months for data. And since the level of financial integration was much less intense in the early 1990s, Japan didn't export its financial problems.
The upshot: In the current crisis, "the velocity of market dysfunction has been much faster and its contagion much more widespread than in Japan's case." And so the damage has been more devastating.
Of course, the duration of the crisis also has something to do with the mentality and action of the first responders. A lesson from both crises, he argues, is that once an adverse feedback loop is established, it's difficult and very expensive to break it and restore confidence. It took a very long time for good news to reach critical mass in Japan in the 1990s, in part due to the slowness of the policy response. But this time, it's different. The Federal Reserve--and, indeed, global central banks and governments--have responded with alacrity. Japan's central banks didn't adopt a zero-percent interest-rate policy until more than eight years after the crisis started; the Fed did so within 20 months. It took Japan nearly eight years to inject funds into troubled banks, compared again with 20 months for the United States to do so. And, Nishimura argues, efforts like the stress tests and TARP exits are bolstering confidence.
Read the whole thing. It's excellent.
Daniel Gross, "A Recession in Dog Years," Slate, June 24, 2009