Depression Longer Than Expected
The current contraction was a year old before we even figured out it was happening (according to someone?), which makes it longer than the average postwar recession. Bail outs and Ponzi schemes are failing. Retail stores and Car dealerships are shutting down. It's quite an entertaining train wreck. Here's a couple ideas on why it could be an exceptional soup line forming mess...
In the middle of this decade, His Holiness Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan believed that information technology had transformed the very nature of recession. Just-in-time inventory, supply-chain dashboards, and an army of permalancers made adapting to changing business conditions so easy, so quick, that old-school recessions, defined by two consecutive quarters of economic shrinkage, would be a thing of the past. Instead, we would experience a series of microrecessions — a down month here or there, followed by upticks — all happening so quickly we barely felt it.
Ah, for the good old days of microrecessions, eh? Let's throw some more bad mortgages on that theory.
What's happened now is something akin to the introduction of automated trading on Wall Street. What made 1987's Black Monday stock-market crash so devastating was the unforeseen triggering of an avalanche of selling by computer. After that, the market installed circuit breakers to prevent a recurrence.
What Wall Street had two decades ago, we now have business at large... Like that scene in Idiocracy, (the hilarious other Mike Judge movie) where the clueless CEO of a giant corporation complains that the computers laid everyone off when the stock dropped. That's something close to what happened in the Panic of '08. As bad news cascaded through the system, they triggered layoffs and cutbacks, which then prompted consumers to cut spending, causing problems for retail chains that overextended with cheap credit... see where this is heading?
And all of this unfolded amidst a global economy already in recession. China and India, once seen as engines of growth for the world, are in parlous states. Which is awesome - but China's imports have propped up old-world economies like Germany, dropped 18 percent from a year ago. India, already running a large budget deficit, has little room to stimulate its economy. Dropping oil prices, meanwhile, have taken the wind out of petroeconomies like Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.
And it's pretty much causing all those anti-petro Green Industries to bleed Dark Red ink too.
That's why I think the recession could be far longer than the 18 months most economists are predicting. Where, exactly, is growth supposed to come from? U.S. consumers and businesses are reeling from debt problems. The rest of the world is hardly better off. The expectation that government spending will lift us out of this mess seems akin to expecting that President Change will deliver us all a new bicycle. Who's going to pay for that?
The Pollyanna response is that the same information technology which helped the recession unfold so quickly will help businesses spot opportunities for growth, making the recovery all the quicker. I seriously doubt it. You think Microsoft or Yahoo can pull us out of this one, really?
Human psychology, and Gordon Gecko taught us that we are far more motivated by fear of loss than the promise of gain. (Greed, it turns out, is good — because it's so much scarcer than we imagine.) Singed by the suddenness of panic, we will be much less likely to respond to glimmers of hope. 18 months? We should be so lucky. Try three years — or longer?