The Only Salvation from Slump: Easier Monetary Policy

By Paul A. Samuelson. Paul A. Samuelson, institute professor emeritus of economics Technology, won the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize . | The Christian Science Monitor, December 11, 1990 | Go to article overview

The Only Salvation from Slump: Easier Monetary Policy


Paul A. Samuelson. Paul A. Samuelson, institute professor emeritus of economics Technology, won the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize ., The Christian Science Monitor


IT is all but official: America is now in a recession. Production is dropping. Unemployment is growing. Profits are hurting.

Even President Bush has used the "R" word publicly. But, he reassured the people: any recession will be a weak and short one. On that I must reserve judgment.

Already American imports are dropping. They are seen to be falling even faster after we correct for the higher prices paid for oil. A recession-induced drop in our imports translates into lower sales here for Japanese and Korean goods. Italy, Spain, and Britain run a similar danger of disappointing US sales.

What about the American military buildup in the Persian Gulf? Will that infuse money into the global economy in the way that our 1950s involvement in the Korean peninsula did?

The answer depends on whether a shooting war begins early next year. If Iraq can for a period hold off the combined United Nations forces attacking her, the acceleration of military activity will begin to heat up the global economy.

On the other hand, were a prolonged and inert standoff to prevail, as Saddam Hussein successfully shrugs off the embargo's sanctions, most of the costs of trying to contain him will involve using up of our military inventories and conscripting away from civilian pursuits some hundreds of thousands of our potential labor force. Not much extra production need be required.

First, let me make clear that Federal Reserve monetary policy is the only possible weapon for macro stabilization today. The Reaganomics of the 1980s has bequeathed us the evil legacy of a chronic structural fiscal deficit. It has thrown away any hope to use fiscal policy as a program for economic stimulus.

Second, it needs to be understood that there is no inherent tendency for our market system to spontaneously end and reverse a "slugflation" like the present one.

In the long run there are indeed some market forces that will work toward some restoration of job opportunity.

Agreed then that it is the Federal Reserve we must pin our hopes on to ameliorate the instability of capitalism. Why am I not optimistic that Fed chairman Alan Greenspan can pull off in 1990-91 the hat trick that Fed chairman Paul Volcker executed so brilliantly when he used discretionary easy-money measures in late 1982 to ignite the long global recovery of the 1980s?

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The Only Salvation from Slump: Easier Monetary Policy
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