Sunday, January 24, 2010

Aiding Economic Recovery in a Recession- The "I" of the Tiger

Aiding Economic Recovery in a Recession, a.k.a. The "I" of the Tiger, from the desk of Bengal-Tiger-Crackling-With-Ideas.

Executive Summary: There are various ideas and approaches being thrown about to help economic recovery out of this recession. Below is a recently published WSJ article by M. Zuckerman****. He suggests budgetary control, but also spending in "regeneration" programs focused on technology and infrastructure. We look at these through the lens of the GDP. We will expand on this and finally tie this in with Innovation and Animal Spirits.

The Background- Aiding Recovery
There are two broad streams of thought when it comes to aiding recovery. One focuses on cutting all cost and bailout toward balancing a budget, with "let it (a company) fail" as the mantra. The other focuses on providing large doses of temporary stimulus that would be followed by an extended period of belt tightening.

Below is a recently published WSJ article by M. Zuckerman**** that seems to belong to the second stream of thought. He suggests budgetary control, but also spending in "regeneration" programs focused on technology (tied in some way to innovation) and infrastructure.
The Article:

Proposed Solution: The GDP Lens
Looking at it in terms of the GDP, where GDP = C + I + G + (X - M), the article can be summarized as:
 Big C (Consumption) goes down, G (government investment) goes up to assist in increasing I (private investment), and eventually "I" will limp back to normal, finally leading to a ratcheting down of G. Note that I am not talking about X - M right now.

I will admit that investing in infrastructure and technology via government regeneration sounds great. That's supposed to be the "soft", "behind the scenes" aspect of government spending led recovery in this equation. We can also look as some background on debt and economies below:

Proposed Solution: South Korean Precedent?
Now, South Korea seems to have pulled off something similar to become an OECD economy. South Korea racheted up debt to support imports of technology and machinery, which led to an increase in exports, and kickstarted private investment. The Chaebols, in this case, were instrumental in this maneuver.

* However, can this maneuver by South Korea be called a precedent?
* Was it, and is it now, easy to pull off?
* Could you call the Chaebols in South Korea a strong government-industry partnership?
* Is a very tight government- private industry partnership feasible in the US?
* Does the tight partnership help in managing and spurring innovation? If yes, is the spurring of innovation, and eventual reovery, quicker or slower than in other approaches?
* Can an increase in G truly substitute, or directly lead to, for an increase in "I"?
* Does an increase in G, at best, keeps the social fabric together, and provide a base on which "I" can rebuild? If yes, is there a minimum and a maximum turnaround time for "I", coming out of economic shock?

Perspectives on how economic recovery would assets itself globally are linked below:
Now, lets focus on the "I" of the Tiger.

The "I" of the Tiger- Funding the Recovery
How do we bring "I" back into business? The government could directly hand money to individuals and businesses, or it could hand it to banks and cajole the banks to make the right lending decisions. As we know, too much liquidity brought us to the real estate bubble. So, lenders/ investors/ government/ banks- whatsinaname? - must exercise "good judgement" in their practices.

* Do we have enough "good judgement" to go around for the massive influx of funds bottlenecked in the financial system/ sitting with the government?
* How do we prevent another bubble?
* On the flip side, how do we ensure that the distribution system works, makes money and hence leads to economic activity?

I am reminded of a conversation at a solar energy panel in 2008, where some folks were of the opinion that funds for solar energy projects were available, but they were tied up with the government (DoE?). The government had a poor track record of investing and ideas floating around including getting investment bankers to the party.

Since we are thinking about the what and the how of aiding economic activity, lets talk about innovation.

Technology and Innovation
Now, I have previously talked about innovation- an example is the link below.

However, lets get into some detail.
* Do good, fundable ideas arrive in some sort of random manner, or can we increase them by just waving money (and tweaking some more factors, if you like. E.g. increasing unemployment, etc.)?
* The VC industry is currently undergoing some sort of contraction as well.
* Research states that MITIE's (an arm of the Japanese government) investments in the electronics industry did not have a significant impact on it.

Animal Spirits
This is where "Animal Spirits" comes into play. You could call it the natural ability of a people to take risk, to innovate and/ or to build. Naive optimism, if you like. Some previous thought on Animal Spirits can be found here:

Are people taking risks to build something they believe in? I recently stumbled across a little cocoa shop in the city- the team had taken up an empty store for their venture while the real estate company looked to fill the space. Very enterprising, and they had a good product too! I really hope that company does well. More about it here:

The cocoa shop example tells me that the US is still a great place to turn good ideas into great engines for growth. I am keeping my fingers crossed for all the good, bright folks out there who have found/ are about to find a great idea.

What do you think?

Some more thoughts on aiding economic recovery can be found here:

*****Note: The article was posted on a macroeconomics forum by Prof. Rosensweig to kick of a debate on approaches to recovery. The ideas here were posted in a condensed form at the form on January 24, 2010.

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