Beyond Banking

by Patrick Appel

Ryan Avent explains why banks are only part of the economic problem:

Paul Krugman, for all his insistence on nationalization, has argued quite forcefully that it was an export boom rather than a banking fix that finally saved Japan. The worrying thing for most economists is that America is unlikely to export its way out of recession -- that's just not how our economy is structured at present -- and it isn't clear where else growth might sprout. Consumption has traditionally been our main engine of growth, but consumers remain saddled with debt and are unlikely to pull the economy out of its doldrums.

In our story, the banks are largely a side issue, dependent on margins to recapitalize themselves which they can only enjoy if the economy begins growing strongly again. But after decades of neglect of the real economy, it's just not clear how strong growth might quickly resume; too many workers simply aren't prepared to find employment outside of manufacturing or construction.

It's important to understand this, because there are ways the government can address structural issues. It will be politically difficult to spend money on the appropriate policies, however, so long as there are economists out there loudly demanding that we keep our powder [dry] for the bank nationalizations that will eventually be necessary.