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Must we do this recession dance again?

By Staff | Mar 22, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to occupy public attention, it may have been easy to miss what is happening in global equity markets.

Stocks in the U.S. reported their worst week since 2008, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average reported a 900-point down day on Friday. Backing up for a bit of perspective, if money was invested in the stock market on the first day of Donald Trump’s presidency, the gains resulting from a bustling economy have all but been wiped out.

Add to this an expectation that unemployment claims will jump as individuals are laid off, furloughed or otherwise unable to be paid by the hour, and this is getting serious, fast.

Fiscal and monetary policy maneuvers at the federal level are akin to the response following the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008. Those of us who rather vividly remember that disaster, along with the dot com bubble crash, are justifiably nervous.

Nobody has a crystal ball. For all we know, there could be an unexpected rebound in stock prices and private investment once COVID-19 infections diminish and the situation is under control.

A few weeks of uncertainty, however, and it appears the U.S. economy may be headed toward recession. The president himself, perhaps too honestly, said things may be moving in that direction. It really begs the question: Must we do this dance again?

It’s a boring cycle. Markets crash so Congress debates sending most everyone checks. As pain sets in, bailouts are proposed for affected industries. As things get political on both ends of the spectrum, state and federal governments launch infrastructure and job training programs and promise this won’t happen again. Wash, rinse, repeat every 10 years.

Let’s hope lessons from the housing market crash have been learned.

In the political arena, we anticipate this will once again not be a discussion about the virtues of the free market clearing away inefficient businesses. Keynesian intervention is a near certainty and there are a few things Utah’s elected representatives in Congress ought to consider.

First, this may prove to be another liquidity trap. Even if $1,200 checks are sent out, many Americans will save the money graciously sent to them — by themselves — out of fear and uncertainty despite low interest rates and eased lending standards.

Further, if markets continue to drop, we would encourage our elected representatives at the state and federal level to make significant investments in helping the average American through any developing crisis. The lack of help for Main Street was a cause of enormous political dissatisfaction in the 2008 fallout and even modest attempts to avoid making that mistake again will pay dividends.

Finally, if bailouts and other federal subsidies must be included in any recovery package, please make those industries pay back the taxpayers and hold those responsible for malinvestment and possible illegality accountable.

In case this is all a blip and we’re overreacting to a handful of situations causing investors to temporarily panic, none of this will be necessary. We can all go back to talking about the president’s tweets without confronting some hard thinking about fiscal and monetary policy.

Maybe, just maybe, this is all a blip.

If it’s not, though, let’s fight recession tooth and nail. But let’s do it without the same mistakes made in 2008. Let’s not do that dance again.


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