At this moment, there’s a somewhat quiet economic revolution occurring in most of the developed world. The reason this revolution appears quiet is because the economics field uses technical language often difficult to understand. However, as we’ve seen with both long lines at Greek banks, and the eyes of the world now fixated on stock markets, seemingly abstract economics policy has real world consequences.
Although hard to say at this point, this quiet revolution could possibly prove as pivotal in economic history as the fall of communism. Only time will tell as to its complete impact. To underscore how the paradigm shift is real, one can note that the head of The International Monetary Fund recently advised the head of America’s Federal Reserve Bank to hold off on raising interest rates.
In a nutshell, the economic revolution sweeping the developed world is the record-low interest rates they’ve had since the Great Recession of 2008. Because the prevailing rate of interest is one of the most important factors economically, it’s accurate to say that the repercussions of record-low interest rates are strong. Historically, record-low interest rates have usually been advocated for only a temporary basis to stimulate slumping economies. Needless to say, many economic experts are shocked that we’ve have had to constantly stimulate much of the developed world’s economies for seven years. Obviously, many experts are surprised our economic gains haven’t been stronger over this time.
The fact that international stock markets are now beginning to slump has many economists and experts quite worried. That’s because the stock market has been the main success story since 2008. In light of the fact that parts of the developed world still suffer from effects of recession-hampered growth, underemployment, growing debt problems, and low personal savings rates, the bright spot has been robust stock markets.
Currently, many economists are worried that if the world economy is now hit with stock market downturns, they’ll have little ammunition left to battle another recession. This is because the main tool for stimulating developed economies has been record-low interest rates. With interest rates currently near rock bottom levels for seven years, there’s really nowhere to go to stimulate.
The Great Recession of 2008 was an incredible turning point economically. This is because what worked well in the past to jumpstart weak economies, didn’t work as well this time. Prior to this time, it was common for Central Banks to resort to low interest rates only until the economy started showing growth.
Currently, there’s a school of economic thinkers that says economic stimulus policies need to be rethought. They fear that if low interest rates are used as stimulus too long, a new sense of economic normal will make an economy somewhat immune to stimulus. These experts feel that trying to constantly stimulate the economy is analogous to a person building up a large tolerance to drugs. After a while, a person can become immune to the drugs’ effects if used too often. Likewise, record-low interest rates on a temporary basis have now begun to morph into almost permanent policy.
Because of the recent stock market situation, there are experts who feel that America’s Federal Reserve Bank may now hold off on their first official interest rate hike in years. The fear is that raising interest rates now will further drop the stock market.
What Greece’s situation represents is the fact that if wealthier countries now respond weakly to economic stimulus, then less stable countries like Greece may prove too weak to respond well to stimulus. Since there are other countries similar to Greece, there is concern that Greece’s problem could become a kind of economic contagion that may spread.
Ironically, economic stimulus policy can actually depress certain sectors of the population. This is because wealth generation and savings have traditionally been acquired through a combination of Stocks, Bonds, Bank Savings, and Real Estate. As is well known, record-low interest rates hurt senior citizens and middle class savings accounts. In addition, low interest rates weaken the bond market. In turn, the weakened bond market hurts pension plans since bonds are often used as a safe investment for pensions. Therefore, stimulus policies on a long-term scale can have the effect of reducing investment choices available for the population at large.
At a time when many western governments are instituting austerity measures to deal with extreme government debt, it’s become clear that austerity cuts often target retirement benefits. Therefore, many retirees are alarmed that their ability to both save and plan for their future, are hampered by the very policies being used to stimulate the economy.
Interestingly, it needs to be noted that many economists reluctantly admit that record-low interest rates, by supercharging the stock market, may be leading to an increase in wealth inequality. This is because the wealthy own a high proportion of stocks. Also, it should be noted that the wealthy are often adept at periodically cashing in their stock gains and reinvesting in the stock market.
A healthy economy stands on several pillars for investment, savings, growth, and security. Although the short-term gains of low interest rates on the stock market have been clear, the other economic pillars of savings through banks and bonds have been weakened. In the long-term, many experts feel that the developed world needs to return to strengthening all pillars of the economy.
In light of the fact that many recent political problems are related to the paradigm shift occurring economically, it’s advisable that we all try to do our part to be proactive with our economic situations. That way, whether the current economic revolution underway is only temporary, or proves to be permanent, we’ll all be better able to plan and adapt for our future.