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City Journal: Unending Economic Crisis


Sep 10, 2023

Fifteen years after the 2008 global financial and economic crisis, many believe that America has made a significant recovery. Gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by 28 percent since before the crisis, fueled by a 35 percent surge in personal consumption. The economy has gained 17.6 million more private-sector jobs, a 15 percent increase, and average weekly earnings have risen 9 percent, breaking the decades-long pay stagnation. The stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, is nearly three times higher than its pre-2008 peak, and the national housing market is 61 percent above its precrisis levels. The tools implemented by regulators post-2008 seem to be effective in managing risk. However, the recovery has been built on cheap debt rather than productive assets, leading to increased consumer spending and inflated paper-asset values. This has resulted in rising inflation, with more money chasing the same goods and services. Deflating this debt-fueled bubble will be challenging, and delaying the process increases the likelihood of market forces taking over. The 2008 crisis brought a change in American politics, with both parties blaming greedy bankers and unregulated markets for the collapse. Fraud and lax regulation were prevalent during that time, and politicians sought to address the public’s anger and reject free markets. New financial regulations were implemented, including the Dodd-Frank Act, which increased regulation over derivatives and gave the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau oversight over mortgages. The act also aimed to prevent future bailouts by requiring large financial institutions to create “living wills.” However, the focus on regulations overlooked the deeper issue of excessive debt in the economy. From the early 1980s to 2007, total debt in America surged, primarily due to mortgage debt. Low inflation expectations made lenders more willing to offer loans, contributing to the increase in mortgage debt. This debt-driven growth was a short-term solution to the economic challenges faced by the loss of manufacturing jobs and stagnant labor productivity. The use of paper wealth, generated through home equity extraction, became a substitute for income. Both parties embraced this approach, with Republicans favoring private asset ownership and Democrats supporting mortgage subsidies. However, the reliance on debt has worsened America’s addiction to borrowing, which remains a significant problem in 2023.

By Editor

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