A year ago, Lawrence Summers’ perceptive warnings about the possibility of secular stagnation in the world economy were dominating global markets. China, Japan and the Eurozone were in deflation, and the US was being dragged into the mess by the rising dollar. Global recession risks were elevated, and commodity prices continued to fall. Fixed investment had slumped. Productivity growth and demographic growth looked to be increasingly anemic everywhere.
Estimates of the equilibrium real interest rate in many economies were being marked down. It seemed possible that the world economy would fall into a “Japanese trap”, in which nominal interest rates would be permanently stuck at the zero lower bound, and would therefore not be able to fall enough to stimulate economic activity.
Just when the sky seemed to be at its darkest, the outlook suddenly began to improve. Global reflation replaced secular stagnation as the theme that dominated investor psychology, especially after Donald Trump’s election in November. Why has secular stagnation lost its mass appeal, and has it disappeared forever? Was it all a case of crying wolf?
Lawrence Summers has always made it clear that in his mind secular stagnation was a hypothesis, not a proven reality, especially in the US. He and others have argued that the combination of very low global GDP growth, alongside falling real interest rates, could be caused by two factors: (i) inadequate global demand, stemming from low business investment, high savings rates in Asia, wide disparity in income distribution and rising risk aversion; and (ii) inadequate global supply, stemming from falling productivity growth, and slowing growth in the labour force....MORE