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The Deleveraging Myth 米景気が回復しないのは何故? 本日英文、明日和訳掲載予定

 本日は、11/14号に掲載されたサロウィッキー氏のコラムの英文を掲載します。明日和訳投稿予定です。The Financial Page です。


 題名は以下のとおり。

The Financial Page

The Deleveraging Myth

by

November 14, 2011 

 111114_r21543_p233.jpg


 題名の中にあるdeleveragingとは、leveragingの反意語で、企業が投資していた資金を回収し自己資本比率を高めることです。今回のコラムの中では、米家計は2001~2007年の景気が良かった時期にジャブジャブ消費し負債が膨らんだが、2008年以降負債を減らすための行動をとるようになり消費が増えていないという意味で使用されています。
 さて、クルーグマンらは、現在米景気が良くならないのは、家計が負債を減らすための行動に走っているので、消費が増えないのが原因だと指摘しています。そういった説をサロウィッキー氏は、myth(神話、作り話) と表現しています。そのmythは、もっともらしく一般的には信じられています。


 ですが、氏は数々の数値を挙げて、そのmythは正しくないと指摘しています。詳細は明日掲載予定の和訳をご覧いただきたいですが、もしくは下に掲載する英文をお読みいただきたいです。私は、サロウィッキー氏の言うとおりで、家計の負債を減らそうとする行動が消費増を防いで景気の重石になっているという説は事実ではないと思います。


 では、以下に英文全文を掲載します。「続きを読む」をクリックして下さい。

The Financial Page

The Deleveraging Myth

by

November 14, 2011 

 111114_r21543_p233.jpg

 When the government reported, last month, that the U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.5 per cent in the third quarter, it was a classic good-news, bad-news situation. The good news is that we aren’t falling back into recession (the dreaded “double-dip”), but the bad news is that, two and a half years after the recession ended, the economy is still just limping along. Many analysts casting about for an explanation of why this recovery has been so tepid have concluded that, as Paul Krugman has written, “it was debt what did it.” Between 2001 and 2007, Americans went on an incredible borrowing binge, nearly doubling their household debt. Now, the argument goes, consumers are focussed on paying off that debt instead of spending freely, and, as long as this process of “deleveraging” continues, the economy is going to stay stuck in the doldrums. Debt, in the words of The Atlantic, is the recovery’s “silent assassin.”


 Americans certainly have lots of debt, but the evidence that it’s killing the recovery is surprisingly sketchy. For a start, American consumers are not actually keeping their wallets closed. Real consumer spending, after collapsing in 2009, has risen for nine straight quarters; this past quarter it was up at an annualized rate of 2.4 per cent. That looks anemic by the standard of past recoveries, but, with an unemployment rate near ten per cent and wages barely rising, that’s to be expected. More important, several things that you’d expect to see if the deleveraging thesis were correct haven’t happened. Personal consumption hasn’t shrunk as a share of the economy: in 2010, it accounted for more than seventy per cent of G.D.P., close to where it’s been for the past decade. And consumers aren’t saving at an unusually high rate; the savings rate during the recovery has hovered around five per cent, significantly lower than the postwar average. And although consumers did reduce their total amount of non-mortgage debt very slightly in 2009, in the two years since, that number has risen again. By historical standards, then, consumer spending is high, not low.


 Of course, relative to the housing-bubble years, both spending and debt are down. But this is the wrong benchmark to use. Borrowing furiously against home equity to fuel a spending spree wasn’t sustainable, and we shouldn’t be looking to get the economy back to that state. Indeed, one simple reason Americans have been spending less on cars and durable goods is that, as the economist Robert Hall has shown, their spending on these things during the bubble was extraordinarily, unnaturally high. If we’ve been buying fewer cars and washing machines, it’s in part because we’ve been working off the overhang from the bubble years.


 In any case, you don’t need to talk about deleveraging to explain sluggish consumer spending. The far likelier cause is what economists call the housing-wealth effect. It’s well established that when housing prices go up people feel richer and spend more: the rule of thumb is that they spend between five and seven per cent of the increase in housing wealth. But when housing prices go down people cut their spending by the same amount in response. Between 2006 and 2011, American homeowners saw the value of their homes drop by seven trillion dollars or so. That means that—even if consumers had no debt at all—we’d expect a dropoff in consumption of about four hundred billion dollars. Toss in the steep decline in the value of people’s retirement accounts and the sense of fear engendered by the near-meltdown of the global financial system, and it’s hardly shocking that consumers are cautious. Given how much wealth Americans lost and how weak the job market is, the real wonder is that spending has proved as resilient as it has.

 There’s no need to posit a “silent assassin” to explain why the recovery is weak. You just need to look at what the bursting of the housing bubble did to the economy. As the economist Dean Baker has pointed out, if you couple the negative impact of the wealth effect due to the housing bubble bursting with the steep decline in residential investment once the bubble burst, you end up with a huge shortfall in demand. Debt exacerbates this, but the core problems are weak demand and the fact that our monetary and fiscal policies haven’t done enough to strengthen it. People are simply much less rich than they were—or thought they were. The average American household lost almost twenty-five per cent of its wealth during the crash. And incomes are not rising briskly enough to offset this. In fact, during the past decade median income fell in real terms.


 This doesn’t mean that the piles of debt accumulated during the bubble aren’t a serious problem and incredibly onerous to the people who are struggling under them. But it does suggest that dealing with the debt problem, or the housing crisis, is not the panacea for the economy that many have made it out to be, especially as debt-servicing costs are already near a twenty-year low. Indeed, even if you could overcome the political obstacles to wiping out all of homeowners’ negative equity, the impact on consumer spending would be surprisingly small. The important lesson is that, if, after all, consumers aren’t keeping their spending unnaturally low, we can’t look to them to jump-start this recovery, even though they’ve been the engines of recovery in the past. This time around, business, export markets, and, especially, the government need to do what consumers can’t.

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