FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession

Economist Robert Samuelson gets it wrong yet again. In talking about the economic downturn following the collapse of the housing bubble, Samuelson tells readers:

“Home buyers had paid too much on the (false) assumption that prices would rise indefinitely. As real estate valuations crested in 2006, homeowners had to divert more of their income to repaying their mortgages and home-equity loans. Other consumer spending suffered.”

Folks who have access to the data on the Commerce Department’s website know that the problem was not that spending fell below normal in the crash, the problem is that spending was way above normal in the bubble years. The Fed somehow failed to notice the consumption boom that accompanied the construction boom, both of which were destined to end when the bubble deflated.

One other point that makes this assertion by Samuelson even more obviously wrong is that the massive wave of defaults that began in 2006 and picked up speed in 2007, 2008, and 2009 freed up hundreds of billions of dollars that would have otherwise gone to mortgage payments.

It is also worth correcting a couple of points on the bank bailouts. First, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which did not exist at the start of the Great Depression, could have kept the banks operating and ensured that the ATMs were working even if there had not been a bailout.

The second point is that, contrary to what was claimed at the time, the government held all the cards in setting the terms of the bailout. It could have, for example, required that any banks receiving money have a plan to downsize themselves over a five-year horizon so that none of their components were too big to fail. It could have made a condition of receiving bailout money that no bank employee will earn more than $500,000 a year in total compensation.

Since the banks were bankrupt, as Bernanke now argues, the executives would have had no legal option except to agree to these terms. (They have to act in the interest of their shareholders.) The bailout crew wanted to give the money with no conditions.

In terms of the hostility prompted by the bailout, if Timothy Geithner ever reads his autobiography, he will discover that he dismisses demands to help underwater homeowners by saying that many bought bigger homes than they could afford. By contrast, he dismisses critics of the bank bailouts as “old testament types.” It is perhaps worth noting in this context that Mr. Geithner now works as a top executive of a private equity company where he almost certainly earns several million dollars a year, and quite possibly more than $10 million.

This column originally appeared on Dean Baker’s blog Beat the Press.

More articles by:

Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

June 26, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The U.S.-Iran Imbroglio: Dangerous Lessons To Be Learned
Paul Street
Reflections and Correspondence at the Abyss
John Laforge
Trump’s Ministry of No Information
Paul Edwards
Fool Me Twice
Rob Hager
Warren and Sanders: Compare and Contrast
John Steppling
The Monkey’s Face
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A World of Shadows
Jaspal Kaur Sadhu Singh
Correcting a Colonial Injustice: The Return of the Chagos Islands to Its Natives
Binoy Kampmark
Violent Voyeurism: Surveillance, Spyware and Human Rights
Jonah Raskin
Reflections on Abbie Hoffman and Joshua Furst’s Novel, Revolutionaries
Dave Chapman
The Hydroponic Threat to Organic Food
June 25, 2019
Rannie Amiri
Instigators of a Persian Gulf Crisis
Patrick Cockburn
Trump May Already be in Too Deep to Avoid War With Iran
Paul Tritschler
Hopeful Things
John Feffer
Deep Fakes: Will AI Swing the 2020 Election?
Binoy Kampmark
Bill Clinton in Kosovo
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Japanese Conjuncture
Edward Hunt
Is Mexico Winding Down or Winding up the Drug War?
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump’s Return to Full-Spectrum Dominance
Steve Kelly
Greed and Politics Should Not Drive Forest Policy
Stephen Carpa
Protecting the Great Burn
Colin Todhunter
‘Modified’: A Film About GMOs and the Corruption of the Food Supply for Profit
Martin Billheimer
The Gothic and the Idea of a ‘Real Elite’
Elliot Sperber
Send ICE to Hanford
June 24, 2019
Jim Kavanagh
Eve of Destruction: Iran Strikes Back
Nino Pagliccia
Sorting Out Reality From Fiction About Venezuela
Jeff Sher
Pickin’ and Choosin’ the Winners and Losers of Climate Change
Howard Lisnoff
“Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran”
Robert Fisk
The West’s Disgraceful Silence on the Death of Morsi
Dean Baker
The Old Japan Disaster Horror Story
David Mattson
The Gallatin Forest Partnership and the Tyranny of Ego
George Wuerthner
How Mountain Bikes Threaten Wilderness
Christopher Ketcham
The Journalist as Hemorrhoid
Manuel E. Yepe
Yankee Worship of Bombings and Endless Wars
Mel Gurtov
Iran—Who and Where is The Threat?
Wim Laven
Revisiting Morality in the Age of Dishonesty
Thomas Knapp
Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”
Weekend Edition
June 21, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Brett Wilkins
A Brief History of US Concentration Camps
Rob Urie
Race, Identity and the Political Economy of Hate
Rev. William Alberts
America’s Respectable War Criminals
Paul Street
“So Happy”: The Trump “Boom,” the Nation’s Despair, and the Decline of Joe Biden
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ask Your Local Death Squad
Dr. Vandana Shiva
Fake Food, Fake Meat: Big Food’s Desperate Attempt to Further the Industrialisation of Food
Eric Draitser
The Art of Trade War: Is Trump Winning His Trade War against China?
Melvin Goodman
Trump’s Russian Problem
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail