By MICHAEL BORDO –
There’s a belief among policy makers that serious recessions associated with financial crises are necessarily followed by slow recoveries—like the one we’ve experienced since mid-2009. But this widespread belief is mistaken. To the contrary, U.S. business cycles going back more than a century show that deep recessions accompanied by financial crises are almost always followed by rapid recoveries.
The mistaken view comes largely from the 2009 book “This Time Is Different,” by economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, and other studies based on the experience of several countries in recent decades. The problem with these studies is that they lump together countries with diverse institutions, financial structures and economic policies. They also conflate two different measures of speed—how long it takes a country to get back to its previous business-cycle peak, and how fast the economy grows once the recovery has started.
Milton Friedman had a different way of looking at recoveries from cyclical downturns: the “plucking” model. Friedman imagined the U.S. economy as a string attached to an upward sloping board, with the board representing the underlying long-run growth rate. A recession, in this view, was a downward pluck on the string; the recovery was when the string snapped back. The greater the pluck, the faster the bounce back to trend.
As Friedman wrote in 1964, “A large contraction in output tends to be followed on the average by a large business expansion; a mild contraction, by a mild expansion.”