Even if Covid-19 Goes Away, the Economy Isn’t Going Back to “Normal”

by Brendan Brown

Speculative frenzy in the midst of recession is not a new phenomenon. Yet the extent of the “madness” this time might well beat records in the small sample size available from the history laboratory. The combination of extreme monetary radicalism and a receding supply shock has proved to be a potent toxic, impairing mental processes in ways described by the behavioral finance theorists. The pandemic stock “bubble” and resumed hectic demand for risky credit paper provide illustrations.

Speculative narratives which would normally encounter much rational skepticism are now riveting investors. Perhaps the most fantastic of these is that the Fed’s credit paper purchase programs amount to a gift to the US corporate sector even larger than the business tax cuts of 2018. A sister narrative concerns European Central Bank (ECB) gifts to Italy. In fact, the gift element is much smaller than at first sight—this is not manna from heaven, but a transfer which imposes burdens on donors and recipients. These programs distort market signals in ways (especially stimulating even higher leverage ratios in the meanwhile) which will worsen the global credit and banking crisis likely to erupt before full economic expansion resumes.

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