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Don't be sure economy will return to normal


By Tyler Cohen

It is hard to avoid the feeling that our current economic problems are more than just a cyclical downturn. We know that the economy has gone through some bad times. But what exactly are we experiencing?

One relatively optimistic view is that observed deficiencies — like slow growth in real wages and the overall economy, persistently low interest rates and low levels of labor participation — are merely temporary. In this view, these problems will dwindle after manageable problems like high levels of public or household debt have been reduced.

Another commonly heard view is that we made the mistake of letting the last recession linger too long, allowing some of its features to became entrenched. That analysis suggests that if we correct past policy errors, whatever they may have been, an underlying normality will re-emerge.

There are some nuggets of truth in both of these arguments, but there is a much more disturbing possibility that could turn out to be more accurate: namely, that the recession was a learning experience that we haven’t fully absorbed. From this perspective, the radical and sudden changes of the financial crisis were early indicators of deep fragility and dysfunctionality.

Slowly but surely, we may be responding to these difficult revelations by scaling back our ambitions for the economy — reinforcing negative trends that were already underway. In this troubling view, we have finally begun to discover some unpleasant truths. Borrowing a phrase from the University of Toronto economist Richard Florida, it’s possible that we are experiencing a “Great Reset.”