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This Is Not Like the 1970s…

Summary:
The extremely thoughtful David Glasner explains why those who analogize the coronavirus supply shock to the monopoly oil price shocks of the 1970s are profoundly mistaken. This is not an inflationary supply shock. This looks overwhelmingly likely be a profoundly deflationary supply shock: David Glasner: “The Idleness of Each Is the Result of the Idleness of All” https://uneasymoney.com/2020/03/20/the-idleness-of-each-is-the-result-of-the-idleness-of-all/: ‘Whether the cause of the downturn is a supply shock or a demand shock. Some, perhaps many, seem to think that if the shock is a supply, rather than a demand, shock, then there is no role for a countercyclical policy response designed to increase demand... ...The problem with that reasoning is that reductions in supply are

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The extremely thoughtful David Glasner explains why those who analogize the coronavirus supply shock to the monopoly oil price shocks of the 1970s are profoundly mistaken. This is not an inflationary supply shock. This looks overwhelmingly likely be a profoundly deflationary supply shock:

David Glasner: “The Idleness of Each Is the Result of the Idleness of All” https://uneasymoney.com/2020/03/20/the-idleness-of-each-is-the-result-of-the-idleness-of-all/: ‘Whether the cause of the downturn is a supply shock or a demand shock. Some, perhaps many, seem to think that if the shock is a supply, rather than a demand, shock, then there is no role for a countercyclical policy response designed to increase demand...

...The problem with that reasoning is that reductions in supply are themselves effectively reductions in demand. The follow-on reductions in demand constitute a secondary contractionary shock on top of the primary supply shock, thereby setting in motion a cumulative process of further reductions in supply and demand....

The interconnectedness of the entire economy, and the inability of any individual to avoid the consequences of a social or economic breakdown by making different (better) choices—e.g., accepting a cut in wages to retain employment—was recognized by the most orthodox of all Cambridge University economists, Frederick Lavington, in his short book The Trade Cycle published in 1922 in the wake of the horrendous 1921-22 depression.... To call unemployment “voluntary” under such circumstances is like calling the reduced speed of drivers in a traffic jam “voluntary.” To suppose that the intersection of a supply-demand diagram provides a relevant analysis of the problem of unemployment under circumstances in which there are massive layoffs of workers from their jobs is absurd.

Nevertheless, modern macroeconomics for the most part proceeds as if the possibility of an inefficient Nash equilibrium is irrelevant to the problems with which it is concerned.... In the face of an adverse supply shock, a spell of inflation lasting as long as the downturn is therefore to be welcomed as benign and salutary, not resisted as evil and destructive. The time for a decline in, or reversal of, inflation ought to be postpone till the recovery is under way...


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Bradford DeLong
J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. He was Deputy Assistant US Treasury Secretary during the Clinton Administration, where he was heavily involved in budget and trade negotiations. His role in designing the bailout of Mexico during the 1994 peso crisis placed him at the forefront of Latin America’s transformation into a region of open economies, and cemented his stature as a leading voice in economic-policy debates.

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