Friday, September 2, 2011

Quotable Quotes: Richard Koo and Martin Wolf

Today, I am reinstating a popular blog service that I provided several years ago: Quotable Quotes.

In the past, I would seek out interesting and often humorous quotes from the very well known to those of lesser fame. In this updated version, I will include comments and other relevant data that are appropriate to the current economic, political, and market times.

The first installment (below) begins with a letter sent to and published in The Economist from noted economist Richard Koo. The emphasis (bold and italics) is added by me to accentuate key points that struck me as especially useful in understanding key elements in the investment decision-making process.

The second is an excerpt from Martin Wolf's most recent economic commentary. I encourage all to read his complete commentary (link provided, FT subscription required).

I trust you will find this reading well worth your time.

August 20, 2011

A different kind of crisis

SIR – The title of your leader on the debt crisis was well chosen (“Turning Japanese”, July 30th), but you missed the point. The Japanese problem of the past 20 years, together with the American and European problems of today, boils down to one fact: the economics profession has never considered a recession that could be caused by the private sector minimizing debt in order to repair balance sheets after a debt-financed bubble in asset prices. As a result, the profession has no clue as to what is the right thing to do.

In this rare type of recession, monetary policy is useless because people with negative equity will not borrow, no matter what the interest rate. Nor will there be many lenders when banks have such huge problems with their balance sheets.

In this environment, therefore, government must borrow and spend the savings generated by the deleveraging in the private sector in order to keep the economy from entering a deflationary spiral. But as John Maynard Keynes noted, it is almost impossible to maintain fiscal stimulus in a democracy during peacetime. It is this difficulty that prolongs this type of recession; it took Japan ten years to climb out of the policy mistake of premature fiscal consolidation in 1997.

The drama in Washington and other capitals is almost the exact replay of that confused policy debate in Japan. And the drama will continue until the public realizes that this is a different disease requiring different treatment.

Richard Koo

Chief economist

Nomura Research Institute


August 30, 2011

Struggling with a great contraction

Mr Obama wishes to be president of a country that does not exist. In his fantasy US, politicians bury differences in bipartisan harmony. In fact, he faces an opposition that would prefer their country to fail than their president to succeed. Ms Merkel, similarly, seeks a non-existent middle way between the German desire for its partners to abide by its disciplines and their inability to do any such thing.

Martin Wolf
Chief economics commentator
Financial Times

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