My position over the last 2 years has been as follows: this is a Main Street debt crisis. I have been highly critical of the government’s incessant interventionist policies over the last few years largely because they ignore the actual problems at hand. First it was Mr. Bernanke saving the banks because he believed the credit crisis started with the banking sector. The great monetarist gaffe ensued. Tim Geithner piled on with the PPIP. FASB jumped on board the bank rescue plan by altering the accounting rules. And then the icing on the cake was the Recovery Act, which, in my opinion, just shoveled money into the hole that had become the output gap, without actually trying to target the real cause of the crisis – those burdened by the debt. In essence, the various bailouts primarily targeted everyone except the people who really needed it.
A year ago I posted a story citing the many reasons why we were sinking into the deflationary Japanese trap. The primary flaw with the US response to the crisis was that we never actually confronted the problem at hand. I have often cited Japanese economists such as Richard Koo who appear to have a good grasp on the problems in Japan and now in the USA. In this case, I cited Keiichiro Kobayashi who is now looking most prescient:
We continue to ignore our past and the warnings from those who have dealt with similar financial crises. Keiichiro Kobayashi, Senior Fellow at the Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry is the latest economist with an in-depth understanding of Japan, who says the U.S. and U.K. are making all the same mistakes:
“Bad debt is the root of the crisis. Fiscal stimulus may help economies for a couple of years but once the “painkilling” effect wears off, US and European economies will plunge back into crisis. The crisis won’t be over until the nonperforming assets are off the balance sheets of US and European banks.”
Read that last paragraph again. These are scarily accurate comments. While the USA claims to have many economists who understand the Japan disease and/or the Great Depression the policy actions we’ve undertaken do not appear to be in line with any understanding of this history.
What we’ve done over the last few years is repeat the mistakes of Japan’s past. Instead of confronting the debt problems head on we have simply tried to fill the output gap with short-term spending plans and impotent monetary policies. As Kobayashi presciently said, the “bad debt is the root of the crisis”. I think most mainstream economists, the administration and the Fed have continually misdiagnosed our problems. They have attempted to save the banking sector and simply fill in holes with spending plans that prop up markets, entice more borrowing and largely ignore the actual cause of the current crisis. Some economists have argued that the Recovery Act didn’t fail, but that it was too small. This is like saying that the cancer patient didn’t receive enough percocet. More percocet isn’t the cure. Targeting the cancer and trying to cut it out is the cure. Yet, we continue to ignore the lessons of Japan despite having so many “experts” on the Japanese disease. Therefore, we appear destined to repeat their horrid economic history assuming our current path isn’t miraculously altered.
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.