Investing in the zero carbon economy in order to escape secular stagnation

By Xavier Timbeau

What the downward revisions of various forecasts (IMFOECDOFCE) presented in early autumn 2015 tell us about the euro zone is not very comforting. A recovery is underway, but it is both sluggish and fragile (see: “A very fragile recovery“). The unemployment rate in the euro zone is still very high (almost 11% of the labour force in the second quarter), and a sluggish recovery means such a slow fall (0.6 point per year) that it will take more than seven years to return to the 2007 level. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank’s unconventional monetary policy is having difficulty re-anchoring inflation expectations. The announcement of quantitative easing in early 2015 pushed up the 5-year/5-year forward inflation rate [1], but since July 2015 the soufflé has collapsed once again and medium-term expectations are 0.8% per year, below the ECB target (2% per year). Underlying inflation has settled in at a low level (0.9% per year), and there is a high risk that the euro zone will be frozen in a state of low inflation or deflation, strangely resembling what Japan has experienced from the mid-1990s to today. Low inflation is not good news because it is triggered by high unemployment and slowly rising nominal wages. The result is real wages growing more slowly than productivity. Little or no inflation means both real interest rates that remain high, which increases the burden of debt and paralyzes investment, but also an unconventional monetary policy that undermines the ability to measure risks and which gradually loses its credibility for maintaining price stability, i.e. to keep inflation within declared targets. At the Jackson Hole Symposium in August 2014, Mario Draghi announced that, in the face of persistent unemployment, monetary policy cannot do everything. Structural reforms are necessary (what else could a central banker say?). But a demand policy is also needed. Not having one means running the risk of secular stagnation, as was formulated by Hansen in the late 1930s and recently brought up to date by Larry Summers. Continue reading “Investing in the zero carbon economy in order to escape secular stagnation”

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