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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #118, December 2008. Copyright 2008, Left Business Observer.


Gloomy, w/ a 15% chance of depression

LBO has often described the U.S. economy by invoking the old Timex watch slogan from the 1950s, “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Crash follows upon panic follows upon bust, and yet the thing keeps getting up again to binge some more. These remarkable feats of renewal, though, have always come with big help from the U.S. government, either multibillion dollar bailouts or long rounds of indulgent monetary policy from the Federal Reserve. But revive it always has, despite the forecasts from the hard left and the hard right that this time it was different and the medicine just won’t work.

Will it work again? Will the megadoses of stimulus do the trick? Or is the jig up? Will what’s widely touted as the greatest financial crisis since the 1930s be a prelude to Great Depression II?

As this is written, the punters on the Intrade betting site—who have an uncanny history in predicting elections—are giving depression a 15% probability. That seems about right. [Note added for web: the value of the web contract soared in the weeks after these words were written. As this note is added, the contract is at 53. That seems too high, but you never know, do you?]

Backstory

Before proceeding, a little reminder of how we got to this sorry pass. People borrowed gobs of money to buy houses they couldn’t afford, and then borrowed additional gobs against the rising value of those houses. All that borrowing was the result of a