Does the latest financial crisis signal the end of a golden age of stable growth?
Author: The Economist
Source: The Economist
No country has had it quite so good as America. For the past 20 years or more its economy has managed an enviable combination of steady growth and low inflation. To add to its good fortune, spending has routinely exceeded its income—leading to a persistent current-account deficit—without any apparent ill effects on the economy. The occasional setbacks have been remarkably small by historical standards. At the start of 1991, for instance, America's GDP fell for a second successive quarter (a common definition of a recession). But output soon recovered and by the end of the year had surpassed its previous peak. The next downturn, in 2001, was shallower still, with GDP dipping by less than half a percent. More recently, other rich countries have enjoyed a similar improvement in economic stability. The ups and downs of economic life, known as the business cycle, have provided a much smoother ride than they once did. That is partly why there has been such a clamour for financial and housing assets, and why firms and households have been more willing to take on debt. A lot is now riding on this golden age of stability continuing. But perceptions about risk are shifting. America's economy, for so long seemingly impregnable, has been growing rather meekly for the past year, weighed down by a slump in housebuilding. The ongoing crisis in credit markets threatens it with recession. Some observers, long mystified by America's ability to live beyond its means and postpone what they see as an unavoidable downturn, think that the world's biggest economy might finally have run out of luck.