By Lawrence Summers
Three months ago I was able to write in this space that in economics “the main thing we have to fear is the lack of fear itself”. This is no longer true today. With clear evidence of a crisis in the subprime US housing sector, risks of its spread to other credit markets, sharp increases in market volatility, reminders of the fragility of global carry trades and signs of slowing economic growth, there is enough apprehension to go around. While it would be premature to predict a US recession, there are now strong grounds for predicting that the US economy will slow down very significantly in 2007. Whether in retrospect 2007 will prove to have been a “pause that refreshed” a nearly decade-long expansion like the growth slowdowns in 1986 and 1995 or whether it will see the end of the expansion is not yet clear. It is clear though that the global economy has been relying on the US as an importer of last resort; that the US economy has been relying on the consumer for its primary impetus; and that until now consumers have been encouraged to spend their incomes fully or more than fully by being able to access the wealth in their homes.