Today, American aggregate non-financial debt is at levels similar to those last seen in the midst of the Great Depression. At 250 per cent of GDP, that debt burden is equivalent to almost US$120,000 for every American (Chart 1).
…..backsliding on financial reform is not a solution to current problems. The challenge for the crisis economies is the paucity of credit demand rather than the scarcity of its supply. Relaxing prudential regulations would run the risk of maintaining dangerously high leverage – the situation that got us into this mess in the first place.
As a result of deleveraging, the global economy risks entering a prolonged period of deficient demand. If mishandled, it could lead to debt deflation and disorderly defaults, potentially triggering large transfers of wealth and social unrest.
Managing the deleveraging process
Austerity is a necessary condition for rebalancing, but it is seldom sufficient. There are really only three options to reduce debt: restructuring, inflation and growth. Whether we like it or not, debt restructuring may happen. If it is to be done, it is best done quickly. Policy-makers need to be careful about delaying the inevitable and merely funding the private exit.
……Some have suggested that higher inflation may be a way out from the burden of excessive debt. This is a siren call. Moving opportunistically to a higher inflation target would risk unmooring inflation expectations and destroying the hard-won gains of price stability.
…..With no easy way out, the basic challenge for central banks is to maintain price stability in order to help sustain nominal aggregate demand during the period of real adjustment. In the Bank’s view, that is best accomplished through a flexible inflation-targeting framework, applied symmetrically, to guard against both higher inflation and the possibility of deflation.
The most palatable strategy to reduce debt is to increase growth. In today’s reality, the hurdles are significant. Once leverage is high in one sector or region, it is very hard to reduce it without at least temporarily increasing it elsewhere.
In recent years, large fiscal expansions in the crisis economies have helped to sustain aggregate demand in the face of private deleveraging. However, the window for such Augustinian policy is rapidly closing. Few except the United States, by dint of its reserve currency status, can maintain it for much longer.
…..The route to restoring competitiveness [in the euro-zone] is through fiscal and structural reforms. These real adjustments are the responsibility of citizens, firms and governments within the affected countries, not central banks. A sustained process of relative wage adjustment will be necessary, implying large declines in living standards for a period in up to one-third of the euro area.
…..With deleveraging economies under pressure, global growth will require global rebalancing. Creditor nations, mainly emerging markets that have benefited from the debt-fuelled demand boom in advanced economies, must now pick up the baton. This will be hard to accomplish without co-operation. Major advanced economies with deficient demand cannot consolidate their fiscal positions and boost household savings without support from increased foreign demand. Meanwhile, emerging markets, seeing their growth decelerate because of sagging demand in advanced countries, are reluctant to abandon a strategy that has served them so well in the past, and are refusing to let their exchange rates materially adjust. Both sides are doubling down on losing strategies. As the Bank has outlined before, relative to a co-operative solution embodied in the G-20’s Action Plan, the foregone output could be enormous: lower world GDP by more than US$7 trillion within five years. Canada has a big stake in avoiding this outcome.
Comment: ~ One of the most important papers I have read this year. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada and Chairman of the Financial Stability Board — established by the G-20 in 2009 to further global economic governance — maps out the hard road to recovery from the current financial crisis.