Over the weekend of the 5 and 6 February, the finance ministers of the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA) met to discuss the state of the world economy. They agreed that the recovery was still too fragile to remove the various stimulus packages adopted around the world. To do so would run the risk of plunging the world back into recession – the dreaded ‘double dip’.
But further fiscal stimulus involves a deepening of public-sector debt – and it is the high levels of debt in various countries, and especially the ‘Piigs’ (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), that is causing worries that their debt will be unsustainable and that this will jeopardise their recovery. Indeed, the days running up to the meeting had seen considerable speculation against the euro as worries about the finances of various eurozone countries grew.
Of course, countries such as Greece, could be bailed out by other eurozone countries, such as Germany of France, or by the IMF. But this would create a moral hazard. If Greece and other countries in deep debt know that they will be bailed out, this might then remove some of the pressure on them to tackle their debts by raising taxes and/or cutting government expenditure.
Group of 7 Vows to Keep Cash Flowing New York Times, Sewell Chan (6/2/10)
Forget cuts and keep spending, Brown told Independent, Sean O’Grady (9/2/10)
European debt concerns drive dollar higher during past week Xinhua, Xiong Tong (6/2/10)
G7 prefers to stay on stimulants Economic Times of India (7/2/10)
G7 pledges to maintain economic stimulus Irish Times (8/2/10)
Mr. Geithner, On What Planet Do You Spend Most of Your Time? Veterans Today (6/2/10)
Gold Price Holds $1,050 – Gold Correction Over? Gold Price News (8/2/10)
Darling ‘confident’ on economic recovery at G7 meeting BBC News (7/2/10)
Britain has to fight hard to avoid the Piigs Sunday Times (7/2/10)
Europe needs to show it has a crisis endgame Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (7/2/10)
Speculators build record bets against euro Financial Times, Peter Garnham (8/2/10)
The wider financial impact of southern Europe’s Pigs Observer, Ashley Seager (7/2/10)
Medicine for Europe’s sinking south Financial Times, Nouriel Roubini and Arnab Das (2/2/10)
Yes, the eurozone will bail out Greece, but its currency has taken a battering Independent on Sunday, Hamish McRae (7/2/10)
- What is meant by a ‘double-dip recession? How likely is such a double dip to occur over the coming months?
- Why has there been speculation against the euro? Who gain and who lose from such speculation?
- Why might the ‘gold correction’ be over? Why might gold prices change again?
- What is meant by ‘moral hazard’? Does bailing out countries, firms or individuals in difficulties always involve a moral hazard?
- What is the case (a) for and (b) against a further fiscal stimulus to countries struggling to recover from recession?
- Would there be any problems in pursuing a tight fiscal policy alongside an expansionary monetary policy?
Latest figures suggest that Japan could be entering a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession. In the second quarter of 2009, Japan managed to achieve a modest 0.9% growth after four quarters of contraction. Growth then accelerated to 1.2% in the third quarter. It now seems likely, however, that the fourth quarter could see a contraction of the economy again – or at best a slow-down in growth. Prices are falling as demand remains stagnant, and this deflation could encourage people to hold back from spending as they wait for prices to fall further.
As the British government announces planned spending cuts to tackle the rapidly mounting public-sector deficit and debt, so Japan has just announced a massive further fiscal stimulus of ¥7.2 trillion (£50 billion) or 1.5% of GDP. Although Japan’s public-sector deficit is no longer the highest of the G7 countries – 7.4% of GDP, compared with 12.6% for the UK, 11.4% for the USA and 8.2% for France (see OECD Economic Outlook November 2009, summary of projections – its debt, currently at 190% of GDP, is by far the highest of the G7 countries (this compares with 115% for Italy, 76% for France, 73% for Germany, 69% for the UK and 65% for the USA).
More than half of the fiscal stimulus will go on increases in government expenditure, especially on public works. However, much of the spending is in the form of a transfer to regional governments, which would otherwise be forced to make spending cuts because of falling tax revenues. So is the stimulus too much, too little, or of little relevance? Read the linked articles below, which consider the issues.
Japan growth estimate slashed Sydney Morning Herald (9/12/09)
Double dip could be taking shape for Japanese economy Market Watch, Lisa Twaronite (9/12/09)
Japan to boost recovery with giant stimulus plan Sydney Morning Herald, Kyoko Hasegawa (8/12/09)
Japan steps up stimulus spending Sydney Morning Herald (8/12/09)
Japan public debt to hit record this fiscal year AsiaOne News (Singapore) (8/12/09)
Japan govt unveils $81 bln economic stimulus Economic Times of India (8/12/09)
Japan’s economic growth figure lowered BBC News (9/12/09)
Japan agrees $81bn stimulus package BBC News (8/12/09)
Japan unveils $80bn of direct spending in $274bn stimulus package Telegraph (8/12/09)
It is Japan we should be worrying about, not America Telegraph (1/11/09)
Japan keeps pouring money into its ailing economy Times Online, Leo Lewis (9/12/09)
Japan’s Leader Promotes $81 Billion Stimulus Plan New York Times, Hiroko Tabuchi (8/12/09)
Japan sets out $81bn stimulus plan Financial Times, Mure Dickie (8/12/09)
Fiscal challenges ahead The Asahi Shimbun (Japan) (8/12/09)
Bond jitters as Japan launches yet another stimulus plan Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (8/12/09)
New Stimulus Won’t Save Japan From Deflation, Soaring Deficit Money Morning, Jason Simpkins (8/12/09)
- Use the threshold concepts of stocks and flows to explain the difference between public-sector deficits and public-sector debt.
- Why might an economy go into a ‘double-dip’ or ‘W-shaped’ recession?
- For what reasons might this latest stimulus package be regarded as (a) too large and (b) too small to tackle Japan’s macroeconomic problems?
- Discuss the proposed policy of banning firms from hiring temporary workers.
- Why does deflation (in the sense of falling prices) create a problem for governments?
- What are the implications for the market for Japanese government bonds of the latest stimulus package?
The early part of the current recession, dating from April 2008, had much in common with the Great Depression dating from June 1929. But the Great Depression lasted three years. So does this grim prospect await the world this time round? Or have we learned the lessons of the past and will the policies of giving economies a large fiscal stimulus, combined with bank rescues and quantitative easing, help to pull the world out of recession this year? The following articles look at the issues.
The recession tracks the Great Depression Martin Wolf, Financial Times (16/6/09)
A Tale of Two Depressions Barry Eichengreen, Kevin H. O’Rourke, Vox (4/6/09)
Economics: How the world economy might recover its poise Financial Times (15/6/09)
Weak recovery in sight but damage from crisis likely to be long-lasting, says OECD OECD (24/6/09)
OECD sees strongest outlook since 2007 Financial Times (24/6/09)
Press Release Board of Governors of the US Federal Reserve System (24/6/09)
You might also like to watch the following two videos. The first uses historical footage to examine the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed. The second is an interview with Joseph Stiglitz about whether the recession of 2008/9 is heading for another Great Depression.
The 1929 Crash (1 of 6) Nibelungensohn, YouTube (27/2/09). Note that you can link to the other five parts of this from this link.
Joseph Stiglitz: ‘This is worse than the Great Depression’ NBC Nightly News (10/2/09)
- Why may the past be a poor guide to the present and future?
- What dangers are there from the policies of expanding aggregate demand through fiscal and monetary policies?
- Explain why the ‘race to full recovery is likely to be long, hard and uncertain.