Thursday, September 8, 2011

Roots of the Great Contraction, by a BIS Sage

I love this talk by Bill White.

White was the chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements, in Basel, from 1995-2008. During the bubble of the aughts, White's team at the BIS was one of the very few sources that accurately reported on the big imbalances in the world economy and tried to sound some warnings. The BIS is the central bank for central bankers.

In the talk, which he gave last month, White is deeply insightful and wry about the policy mistakes that helped get our economy, and Europe's, into so much trouble in the past few years. He talks at the 16-minute mark, and again briefly at the 1 hour 20 minute mark, for a total of about 22 minutes in all. The occasion is a gathering of Nobel laureates in Lindau, Germany. White does not get very technical. Mere mortals would be bragging about their past good calls, but he resists that.

White partly faults banks, hedge funds and the like, but sees the crisis as rooted even more in mistakes by central banks -- specifically in their creation of moral hazard through lowering interest rates to soften each serious market problem or bust that has happened since 1987. It is troubling, but very interesting, to hear him say that he thinks that the imbalances that we had in 2007 did not actually go away.