Larry Summers Gospel of Secular Stagnation. @PeterCoy, Bloomberg Businessweek.

May 20, 2016, 06:05 AM

05-20-2016 (Photo: #Summers with Tim #Geithner, Peter #Orszag and POTUS., September, 2010) Twitter: @BatchelorShow Larry Summers Gospel of Secular #Stagnation. @PeterCoy, Bloomberg Businessweek.

“…For economic policymakers, the most disturbing question is why global growth remains paltry and uneven. The annual growth rate of gross domestic product in the U.S. in the January-March quarter was just 0.5 percent. The euro zone was stronger than the U.S., at 2.2 percent; Japan, which has been flipping in and out of recessions for a quarter century, shrank 1.1 percent. #Deflation once seemed to be a strictly Japanese problem—now it’s a worldwide threat. Pessimism about growth prospects is reflected in low forecasts for long-term interest rates. The annual yield on German 10-year notes is only 0.13 percent. “It wasn’t obvious in the summer of 2013, when President Obama was choosing between #Yellen and Summers, that Summers would turn out to have such out-of-the-box ideas. Obama said that “when it comes down to their basic philosophy on the future of the Fed,” the differences between the candidates were so small “you couldn’t slide a paper between them,” according to Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who attended a meeting with the president. Both were highly credentialed—she as a longtime Fed official who was a labor economist at the University of California at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; he as Treasury secretary under Bill #Clinton, former Harvard University president, and former head of Obama’s National Economic Council. If anything, Yellen seemed more likely to be an activist Fed chair and “would probably be more committed to keeping stimulus in place until the economy was definitely recovered,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase, said at the time.

“But in November 2013, after Yellen was chosen but before she replaced Ben Bernanke as chair, Summers went to the International Monetary Fund in Washington and raised the specter of “secular stagnation,” a term coined in the Great Depression by Harvard economist Alvin Hansen, who lamented “sick recoveries which die in their infancy, and depressions which feed on themselves and leave a hard and seemingly immovable form of unemployment.” “Secular” is econospeak for long-lasting, as opposed to cyclical. Hansen’s warnings about secular stagnation seemed to be disproved when U.S. growth accelerated in World War II and then remained strong after the war stimulus ended. “For Summers, bringing the idea of secular stagnation back into the academic debate was like putting on a moldy old coat from Grandpa’s attic. But revive it he did. “Now, this may all be madness, and I may not have this right at all,” he told the IMF audience, before coming around to saying, “we may well need, in the years ahead, to think about how we manage an economy in which the zero nominal interest rate is a chronic and systemic inhibitor of economic activity, holding our economies back below their potential.”