Michael J. Casey at WSJ interviews HSBC group chief economist Stephen King, author of When the Money Runs Out: The End of Western Affluence:
Mr. King’s thesis….. is that we in the West are in line for a shock when we discover that the high-growth rates to which we’re accustomed aren’t coming back. In the U.S., we’ve been wrongly budgeting for a return to 3.5% average real growth rates that persisted through the second half of the 20th century — an affliction suffered by both policymakers and households that he calls an “optimism bias” — and yet even before the financial crisis destroyed trillions of dollars of wealth the economy was only clocking gains of 2.5% per year. Forget worrying about the post-crisis onset of a Japan-style “lost decade,” Mr. King says. “We have been through a lost decade already. ”Among the reasons for this long-term shift to a slower potential growth rate, he cites the exhaustion of a various one-off productivity gains that boosted growth after World War II: the entry of women into the workforce; the liberalization of world trade; a tripling in rates of consumer credit founded on an unsustainable increase in housing prices; and education. These gains are no longer to be had, he says, but policymakers are blind to that fact and so are burdening the economies of the U.S., Europe and Japan with long-term debts.
While I agree that we are unlikely to see a resumption of the rapid debt growth of the last 3 decades, this should contribute to lower inflation and greater stability, without a credit-fueled boom-bust cycle, that could partially offset the negative effects. I also question whether productivity gains are really exhausted, or if this is a temporary after-effect of low, post-GFC capital investment. There is ample evidence that the global economy is slowing and productivity gains will fall — if one is prepared to ignore evidence to the contrary such as the rise of automation, advances in genetics, nanotechnology, sustainable energy and slowing global population growth — which should alleviate the poverty trap that many countries are still in. The researcher has to beware of confirmation bias, where they gather data to support a preconceived opinion.