Not Your Father's Recession

Virtually all economists missed the 2001 recession, in most cases not even predicting it until it was almost over. The main reason was that the recession did not follow the usual pattern. It was the result of the stock market crash decimating tech investment. All prior post-war recessions had been brought on by higher interest rates leading to a falloff in housing construction and new car buying.

There is a similar situation today. If the economy slides into a recession (my bet), it is because of a crash of the housing bubble. This is one that will also not follow the usual pattern. For this reason, standard forecasting methods are likely to provide bad predictions. Fortunately, we have not had many instances of national housing crashes, so we don't have much experience on which to predict the course of a recession based on one. (Yes, housing markets are local, but we will have the simulataneous collapse of enough local markets to have a national impact, just as the rise in housing values had a national impact.)

The one thing we can say is that the recovery from a housing crash induced recession will not be as easy as a normal recovery. Youl can't just lower interest rates and expect a boom in home construction and car buying. As I've note before, the Fed used the housing bubble to boost the economy out of the recession that resulted from the collapse of stock bubble. It's not clear that it has another potential bubble out there.

--Dean Baker

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