2009/01/29 14:33

Le meilleur blogue pour suivre et comprendre la crise…

…est celui de Megan McArdle. Blogueuse économique de longue date, elle avoue volontiers ses sympathies libertariennes… mais contrairement à la plupart d’entre eux, son argumentation est rigoureusement fondé sur une démarche qui cherche à faire la distinction entre les données empiriques et les modèles et théories complexes non démontrés auquels se fient les économistes (incluant ceux auquels elle adhère). Son travail de vulgarisation pour un sujet aussi complexe est tout-à-fait hors-pair.

J’en profite pour reproduire un extrait d’un billet qu’elle a écrit au début de la semaine qui a beaucoup été cité dans la grosse sphère d’à-côté et qui forme la base de mon questionnement actuel sur la crise… (qui sera étalé dans un billet que je m’apprète à publier)

Why does speed matter so much?  Because the primary argument for fiscal stimulus right now is not that we need to alleviate the pain of a temporary economic contraction–that’s what things like beefier unemployment insurance, food stamps, and housing assistance are for (the first and the last are very good ideas, by the way.)  The argument is that we’re in danger of a liquidity trap–that we could end up at a permanently lower level of output, as described by Keynes and popularized by Paul Krugman in the story of the Capitol Hill Baby Sitting Collective.  (Though it’s worth noting that the ultimate solution was to double the money supply . . . )  

The basic idea is that if everyone is afraid to spend money because they might be laid off, and sits at home in the dark, all the people who made money selling the things they used to buy will get laid off–and so will they, because they’re part of “everyone”.  The government basically shocks us into a higher level of output by spending the money we’re afraid to.

Though you wouldn’t think it from the really quite shocking incivility emanating from the pro-stimulus side, the empirical evidence that this works in a large industrial economy like ours is basically nonexistant.  The problem is, we have very, very few examples to test on:  America during the Great Depression, and Japan in the 1990s.  And neither America nor Japan managed to stimulate their way out of their troubles.  You can argue–and many do–that this is because we, and they, didn’t stimulate enough.  That may be true.  But unless you can forward test your theory, it’s a just so story . . . as we just painfully found out about the “It was all the Fed’s fault” narrative of the 1930s banking collapse.  There is no excuse for calling people who question your highly theoretical model fools and charlatans.

What we’ve got, since Japan really never did emerge from its lost decade, is basically one fact: America entered World War II in a depression, and emerged from World War II without one.  Hopefully, the relevant variable was the massive, massive amount of spending, rather than any of the other explanations one can plausibly build about the effect of Total War on depressions–like the slaughter of some of your excess labor force, or the substitution of more immediate fears of being killed for panic about the financial future.

But the amount of government borrowing during World War II was truly gargantuan–roughly half of GDP by 1943.  All the relief dribbled out over the course of the Great Depression at best kept the Depression from being worse–unemployment was still in the double digits in the late 1930s.  Moreover, much of the spending FDR did do was paid for by tax hikes, which cancel out the stimulative effect of the spending.  It’s hard to tell how much to credit even the improvement we did see to government borrowing, because of course the acute portion of a financial crisis does come to an end eventually even without government action, and by the time FDR entered office the thing had already been running for a good three years.  

So if we’re going to do stimulus, judging from our not-very-good best example, what we want to do is pack a massive wallop as quickly as possible, to shock those “animal spirits” back into a more normal economic rhythm.  I am skeptical that this will work even if tried, for reasons I have outlined elsewhere.  But if we are going to try it, we should be focusing less on the Democratic wish list and more on figuring out where money can be most quickly and effectively spent.

Aussi, The Atlantic, la publication pour laquelle elle travaille, vient de mettre en ligne un “channel”/”blogue collectif” sur le sujet sous la supervision de Megan.


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2 commentaires sur “Le meilleur blogue pour suivre et comprendre la crise…”


  1. Dépression et relance: quelle est la bonne formule? - Le Petit Émerillon dit:

    [...] à laquelle j’appartiens. …Et sur la grosse nation d’à coté  < Le meilleur blogue pour suivre et comprendre la crise… [...]


  2. Philippe David dit:

    Je trouve un peu contradictoire qu’elle puisse se dire libertarienne, mais qu’elle semble vouloir laisser le bénifice du doute aux stimulus économiques…

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