Double-dip recession: Have governments run out of tools to avert it?

Commentaries on economics and technology.
June 22 2011 3:27 PM

That Stalling Feeling

Can anything prevent a double-dip recession? Governments are running out of tools to avert it.

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If what is happening now turns out to be something worse than a temporary soft patch, the market correction will continue further, thus weakening growth as the negative wealth effects of falling equity markets reduce private spending. And, unlike in 2007-10, when every negative shock and market downturn was countered by more policy action by governments, this time around policymakers are running out of ammunition and thus may be unable to trigger more asset reflation and jump-start the real economy.

This lack of policy bullets is reflected in most advanced economies' embrace of some form of austerity, in order to avoid a fiscal train wreck down the line. Public debt is already high, and many sovereigns are near distress, so governments' ability to backstop their banks via more bailouts, guarantees, and ring-fencing of questionable assets is severely constrained. Another round of so-called "quantitative easing" by monetary authorities may not occur as inflation is rising—albeit slowly—in most advanced economies.

If the latest global economic data reflect something more serious than a hiccup, and markets and economies continue to slow, policymakers could well find themselves empty-handed. If that happens, the risk of stall speed or an outright double-dip recession would rise sharply in many advanced economies.

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This article comes from Project Syndicate.

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Nouriel Roubini is chairman of Roubini Global Economics and professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business.