Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Quote of Note: Robert B. Reich
How much worse can it get? The housing bubble drove home prices up 20 to 40 percent above historic averages relative to earnings and rents. So now that the bubble is bursting, you can expect prices to drop by roughly the same amount, and new home construction to contract. The latter plunged last month to its lowest point in more than 16 years. A managing partner of a large Wall Street financial house told me a few days ago the scenario could get much worse. He gave a 20 percent chance of a depression.Robert B. Reich, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor, in today's Salon. Thanks to DewayneNet Technology List, run by Dewayne Hendricks, for the pointer.
Even if a stimulus package were precisely targeted to consumers most likely to spend any money they received, the housing slump could overwhelm it. According to a recent estimate by Merrill-Lynch, the slump will hit consumer spending to the tune of $360 billion this year and next. That's more than double the size of the stimulus package President Bush or any leading Democrat is now talking about. And the Merrill-Lynch estimate is conservative.
In reality, the crisis is both a credit crunch and the bursting of the housing bubble. Wall Street is in terrible shape and Main Street is about to be in terrible shape. And there's not a whole lot that can be done about either of these problems -- because they are the results of years of lax credit standards, get-rich-quick schemes, wild speculation on Wall Street and in the housing market, and gross irresponsibility by the Fed, the Treasury and the Comptroller of the Currency.
As a practical matter, our only real hope for avoiding a deep recession or worse depends on loans and investments from abroad -- some major U.S. financial firms have already gotten key cash infusions from foreign governments buying stakes in them -- combined with export earnings as the dollar continues to weaken. But this is something no politician wants to admit, especially in an election year. So we're going to go through weeks of posturing about stimulus packages of one sort or another, and then see enacted the big fat bonanza of a temporary tax break that will likely have little effect. That, perhaps along with a few more rate cuts by the Fed. The presidential candidates will be asked what should be done about the worsening economy, and they'll give vague answers. None will likely admit the truth: We're going to need the rest of the world to bail us out.
Comments: Post a Comment