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June 27, 2005

Stephen Roach on Bubble-World

Stephen Roach writes:

Morgan Stanley: Long ago, when America’s Asset Economy was in its infancy, Alan Greenspan worried about “irrational exuberance.” But he quickly changed his mind and went on to champion the equity culture spawned by the New Economy. In my view, that was a policy blunder of monumental proportions.

The rest is history -- and a sad history at that. By electing to condone the greatest equity bubble since the late 1920s, the Fed has been snared in a low real interest rate trap -- in effect, locking itself in to a serial bubble-blowing strategy. To counter post-equity bubble aftershocks, the Fed slashed its policy rate by 550 basis points to 1% -- vowing that it had learned the tough lessons of Japan (see the now-seminal research report by the Fed’s research staff, “Preventing Deflation: Lessons From Japan's Experience in the 1990s” by Alan Ahearne; Joseph Gagnon; Jane Haltmaier; Steve Kamin, et. al., June 2002). And then in the face of a full-blown deflation scare -- a classic and predictable symptom of a post-bubble shakeout -- the Fed maintained an uber-accomodative policy stance that is still in place today. It pushed the real federal funds rate into negative territory for three years (2002-04) before finally taking it up to the zero threshold, where it remains today...

But what is the appropriate real interest rate for America--and the world--today? It's not as if the United States or the world has a large demand for investment. Would we really wish that investment worldwide be lower? Investment in America?

Stephen Roach asks good questions. But I'm not sure what the answers are.

Posted by DeLong at June 27, 2005 09:40 PM