Secular Stagnation

saving2The Free Exchange column of The Economist recently had an article which addressed the concern that in order to create or revive economic growth developed economies will just create a bubble environment. However this concept was around in the 1930’s as economist Alvin Hansen thought a slowing of both population growth and technological progress would reduce opportunities for investment. Savings would then accumulate and growth would slow unless the government intervened to bolster demand in the economy. Today interest rates are low and therefore saving has limited avenues to earn reasonable returns from productive investment opportunities. But according to The Economist this story doesn’t fit the current conditions for the following reasons:

1. There is at present an IT revolution
2. Private investment has recovered since the GFC and technology investments are doing very well.

But some investment managers are paid by the value of the share price and these get boosted in the short -run. This encourages them to put large amounts of cash into buy-backs, which raises stock prices, rather than into productive investments that might do more to boost growth.

Saving could also be seen as a reason for secular stagnation. High levels of saving reflect the reduction in consumption and this is thought to have come about by an in the increase in income inequality – high income households save more than those on lower incomes. In 2007 – 23.5% of all American income went to the top 1% of earners – the highest percentage since 1929. Research has shown that saving by the top 5% has been surppressing demand since the mid-1980’s. Carmen Rheinhart and Ken Rogoff in their book “This Time is Different” (which I have blogged on in previous posts) concluded that post war banking crises are followed by weak recoveries, whether or not they were preceded by a surge in income inequality.

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