As Schumpeter’s analysis shows, accelerating debt should lead change in output in a well-functioning economy; we unfortunately live in a Ponzi economy where accelerating debt leads to asset price bubbles.
In a well-functioning economy, periods of acceleration of debt would be followed by periods of deceleration, so that the ratio of debt to GDP cycles but did not rise over time. In a Ponzi economy, the acceleration of debt remains positive most of the time, leading not merely to cycles in the debt to GDP ratio, but a secular trend towards rising debt. When that trend exhausts itself, a Depression ensues—which is where we are now. Deleveraging replaces rising debt, the debt to GDP ratio falls, and debt starts to reduce aggregate demand rather than increase it as happens during a boom.
Even in that situation, however, the acceleration of debt can still give the economy a temporary boost—as Biggs, Meyer and Pick pointed out. A slowdown in the rate of decline of debt means that debt is accelerating: therefore even when aggregate private debt is falling—as it has since 2009—a slowdown in that rate of decline can give the economy a boost.
That’s the major factor that generated the apparent recovery from the Great Recession: a slowdown in the rate of decline of private debt gave the economy a temporary boost. The same force caused the apparent boom of the Great Moderation: it wasn’t “improved monetary policy” that caused the Great Moderation, as Bernanke once argued (Ben S. Bernanke, 2004), but bad monetary policy that wrongly ignored the impact of rising private debt upon the economy.
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