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The Depth of the Next US Recession

Summary:
Whatever the immediate trigger of the next US recession, the consequences are likely to be severe. With the US government committed to pro-cyclical fiscal, macro-prudential, and even monetary policies, the authorities are in a weak position to manage the next inevitable shock. ASPEN, COLORADO – The United States economy is doing well. But the next recession – and there is always another recession – could be very bad. Sean Gallup/Getty Images Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Previous Next The US Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that GDP growth in the second quarter of 2018 reached 4.1% – the highest since the 4.9% seen under President Barack

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Whatever the immediate trigger of the next US recession, the consequences are likely to be severe. With the US government committed to pro-cyclical fiscal, macro-prudential, and even monetary policies, the authorities are in a weak position to manage the next inevitable shock.

ASPEN, COLORADO – The United States economy is doing well. But the next recession – and there is always another recession – could be very bad.

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that GDP growth in the second quarter of 2018 reached 4.1% – the highest since the 4.9% seen under President Barack Obama in 2014. Another year of growth will match the record ten-year expansion of the 1990s. Add to that low unemployment, and things are looking good.

But this cannot continue forever. Given massive global corporate debt and a soaring US stock market – the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio is high by historical standards – one possible trigger for a downturn in the coming years is a negative shock that could send securities tumbling.

That shock could be homegrown, coming in the form, say, of renewed inflation or of the continued escalation of the trade war that US President Donald Trump has started. The shock could also come from abroad. For example, the current financial and currency crisis in Turkey could spread to other emerging markets. The euro crisis is not truly over, despite the completion of Greece’s bailout program, with Italy, in particular, representing a major source of risk. Even China is vulnerable to slowing growth and high levels of debt.

Whatever the immediate trigger, the consequences...

Jeffrey Frankel
Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He directs the Program in International Finance and Macroeconomics at the US National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official US arbiter of recession and recovery.

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