As Jim Grant himself acknowledges, he’s no perma-bull. Many, in fact, would put him in the other camp. But now he’s arguing that we’re a quarter into what will be a startlingly sharp recovery.
Why does Grant think that Bernanke, Obama, Roubini, and other grand consensus thinkers are getting it wrong?
Because the faster they fall, the faster they rise.
Asha Bangalore of Northern Trust illustrated this with a chart of the rate of recovery of post-war recessions. And now, in the WSJ, Grant goes back even further in history.
With regard to the recession that precedes the recovery, worse is subsequently better. The deeper the slump, the zippier the recovery. To quote a dissenter from the forecasting consensus, Michael T. Darda, chief economist of MKM Partners, Greenwich, Conn.: “[T]he most important determinant of the strength of an economy recovery is the depth of the downturn that preceded it. There are no exceptions to this rule, including the 1929-1939 period.”
Growth snapped back following the depressions of 1893-94, 1907-08, 1920-21 and 1929-33. If ugly downturns made for torpid recoveries, as today’s economists suggest, the economic history of this country would have to be rewritten. Amity Shlaes, in her “The Forgotten Man,” a history of the Depression, shows what the New Deal failed to achieve in the way of long-term economic stimulus. However, in the first full year of the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (and the first full year of recovery from the Great Depression), inflation-adjusted gross national product spurted by 17.3%. Many were caught short. Among his first acts in office, Roosevelt had closed the banks. He had excoriated the bankers, devalued the dollar, called in the people’s gold and instituted, through the National Industrial Recovery Act, a program of coerced reflation.
“At the business trough in 1933,” Mr. Darda points out, “the unemployment rate stood at 25% (if there had been a ‘U6’ version of labour underutilization then, it likely would have been about 44% vs. 16.8% today. . . ). At the same time, the consumption share of GDP was above 80% in 1933 and the household savings rate was negative. Yet, in the four years that followed, the economy expanded at a 9.5% annual average rate while the unemployment rate dropped 10.6 percentage points.” Not even this mighty leap restored the 27% of 1929 GNP that the Depression had devoured. But the economy’s lurch to the upside in the politically inhospitable mid-1930s should serve to blunt the force of the line of argument that the 2009-10 recovery is doomed because private enterprise is no longer practiced in the 50 states.
To the English economist Arthur C. Pigou is credited a bon mot that exactly frames the issue. “The error of optimism dies in the crisis, but in dying it gives birth to an error of pessimism. This new error is born not an infant, but a giant.” So it is today…
Why will the economy bounce back so strongly? Bargain-hunting, says Grant.
Thanks to deflation, at the end of the Depression, the folks who weren’t unemployed had a lot of buying power. Now, thanks to the 30%+ crash in house prices plus near-zero interest rates, the folks who aren’t unemployed have lots of buying power again.
And they’re starting to spend. Witness the housing market. Even in Detroit!
Bargain-hunting is the balm of recovery even today, dead set against low prices the Federal Reserve might be. Detroit is a living laboratory in many things, including the so-called real balance effect. As Marshall Mandall, a RE/MAX agent in that city, tells the story, house prices are still falling at the high end of the market, though they have stabilised at the low end. Transaction volumes are rising. Speculators are on the prowl, but so, too, are ordinary home buyers. It seems—who’d have guessed it?—that value sells. “They can buy something for half of what they could three years ago,” Mr. Mandall says. “Everybody perceives bargains in their house-hunting.” At the end of the second quarter, according to the Detroit Free Press, the supply of unsold houses was equivalent to 8.5 months’ sales, down 39% from the year before.
So what does this v-shaped recovery view of the world suggest we’re in for?
10%+ GDP growth next year.
See Also: How The Economy Recovers