Daily Archives: October 26, 2008

by Laurence Kotlikoff, Perry Mehrling and Alistair Milne

The infusions of equity in a score or so of major banks will help prevent a deep and prolonged world-wide recession. So will the Fed’s new Money Market Investor Funding facility, and similar guarantees provided in some other countries, which support unsecured short-term borrowing by top-rated financial institutions.

But these steps won’t help most banks to get back to their main job – lending to households and businesses. For banks to lend, they must borrow and doing so, on any scale, requires collateral. Collateral today is in terribly short supply because trillions of dollars in AAA or better senior structured credit securities, including top-tranche mortgage-backed securities, are no longer being accepted. 

by Laurence Kotlikoff  and Edward Leamer

The demise of financial titans and the incessant warnings of economic Armageddon have unleashed a tidal wave of asset sales across the globe, eviscerating trillions in personal wealth. Stock prices are now low enough to bring back some buyers, but the contest between fear and greed remains undecided.

The same defensive mentality that allowed the sale of equities at fire sale prices threatens to cause a sharp drop in consumer spending, which accounts for 72 per cent of US GDP.  If this happens, the economy will slide into deep recession. 

By Lawrence Summers

Events as well as ideas shape policy choices in democracies. Who would have predicted a year ago that a Republican ad­ministration would demand that Congress make the largest set of investments in public companies in US peacetime history? Would anyone have supposed that President George W. Bush would convene a global effort to renew Bretton Woods through strengthened international financial regulation? It reminds us that in the economic sphere, as in the national security sphere, dramatic events can make the inconceivable become inevitable.

Discussions of the policy implications of the crisis have primarily focused on the immediate economic demands. The need to ensure the capital adequacy of financial institutions, maintain important credit flows, support the housing sector and the real economy, contain international spill­overs and reform regulation to prevent any recurrence of the crisis have rightly been the priority. In all these areas there will be many crucial policy choices to make in the months ahead.

However, policies that contain the crisis, support the economy and generate recovery are not sufficient to meet the historic challenge of this moment. Even with the best conceivable fiscal, monetary, financial and regulatory policies, economic performance depends on deeper and more structural policy choices. Nations cannot fine tune their way to delivering a prosperity that is more broadly based. In important ways, then, the crisis creates space to address longer standing problems. Just as patients hear advice regarding diet and exercise differently after a heart attack, so recent events should make it possible for the next US administration to accomplish more than might previously have been thought possible.