Does it take to replace a light bulb?
Who cares? Because we may all be about to become one.
It’s beginning to look like Keynes was wrong about liquidity traps, at least when he argued that there’s a certain minimum nominal yield that government bond investors demand, and that long term rates can be reduced no further. Wherever people draw a line, bond yields just seem to plunge right through, to one record low after another. And we know from Japan that they can go even lower. But what does this mean?I have been trying to grasp the nature of this savings glut for the last few years. Nothing else really explains why interest rates refuse to climb or inflation is almost trivial, even with commodity volatility.
It probably means multiple things. For instance it suggests that the Keynesian/market monetarist AD pessimists and the Great Stagnation AS pessimists are both right. We are looking at BOTH low inflation and low real GDP growth for many years to come. Why don’t I think AD explanations are enough? Partly because even the 20 year T-bond now has a negative real yield. Indeed it suggests the Bernanke “global savings glut” hypothesis is also correct, a point I’ve argued previously. Japan is the future of the world. [More]
Simply put, we (the world) have much more saved than there is to invest in. Not only that but we suddenly have gotten fiscal religion and are repaying debt like crazy.
So what is going on? The main answer is that this is what happens when you have a “deleveraging shock,” in which everyone is trying to pay down debt at the same time. Household borrowing has plunged; businesses are sitting on cash because there’s no reason to expand capacity when the sales aren’t there; and the result is that investors are all dressed up with nowhere to go, or rather no place to put their money. So they’re buying government debt, even at very low returns, for lack of alternatives. Moreover, by making money available so cheaply, they are in effect begging governments to issue more debt. [More]It truly counterintuitive to grasp that assets and debts are really just two sides of the same transaction. Our seemingly horrifying debt is also the retirement fund for Mom and Dad (bonds). So the more we stress to save, not spend, the more we need investments to put those savings in.
It is also a comment about demographics and its effects on national economies. That is the real meaning, IMHO, when we see Japan as our future.
In short, Japan's economy works better for those middle-aged and older than it does for the young. But it is not yet in crisis, and economists say there is plenty it could do to raise its potential growth rate, as well as to lower its debt burden.While eyes strain to make the first sighting of inflation or rising interest rates, the fact we are so afraid of seeing them almost insures their delayed arrival. In the face of real numbers on CD rates we cling to cash and cash equivalents like...a bunch of old people.
Last weekend Yoshihiko Noda, the prime minister, took a brave shot at promoting reform when he said Japan planned to start consultations towards joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is an American-backed free-trade zone that could lead to a lowering of tariffs on a huge swath of goods and services. Predictably it is elderly farmers, doctors and small businessmen who are most against it.
Reforms to other areas, such as the tax and benefit system, might be easier if the government could tell the Japanese a different story: not that their economy is mired in stagnation, but that its performance reflects the ups and downs of an ageing society, and that the old as well as the young need to make sacrifices.
The trouble is that the downbeat narrative is deeply ingrained. The current crop of leading Japanese politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen are themselves well past middle age. Many think they have sacrificed enough since the glory days of the 1980s, when Japan's economy seemed unstoppable. Mr Weinstein says they suffer from “diminished-giant syndrome”, nervously watching the economic rise of China. If they compared themselves instead with America and Europe, they might feel heartened enough to make some of the tough choices needed. [More]