Can good economic times last forever? Is it impossible to have “stable” economic growth?

This is the argument presented in Barry Ritholtz’s post: Galbraith: Financial Stability Creates Instability

Here are the essential points of the article.

  • When the economy is good for a long time, people then think the good times will continue indefinitely so they take extra risk (e.g. debt).
  • This additional risk eventually sows the seeds of the end of the economic expansionary period.

For example, during the 2000 real estate bubble, housing prices were thought to only go up, therefore the logical conclusion was for everyone to buy as much real estate as possible (by using financial leverage or debt) since this was an easy road to wealth.

Of course this speculation led to massive over construction of residential and commercial real estate. The resulting overcapacity caused falling prices which, as we now know, completely destroyed our financial system and the economy.

Interestingly, classically accepted econimics says that the economy can remain in a steady state – yet it never does, does it?  Ritholtz’s article explains what really happens.

Key Quotes

McCulley was referring to economist Hyman Minsky’s concept that long periods of stability cause people to take on ever more debt and ever more risk, leading to a gigantic meltdown.

Systemically-speaking, the Ponzi phase is one of risky behavior crowding out prudent behavior in a world free of regulatory controls. If risky behavior is temporarily rewarded with profit and this temporary period is long enough, then risky behavior wins and drives out good behavior.

Think we’ll remember this during the next bubble?

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