After the Great Recession, central banks undertook extraordinary efforts, but with un-extraordinary results.
The US Federal Reserve first backstopped the entire financial system, then printed trillions in reserves and pushed down long-term interest rates. Mario Draghi’s ECB did “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro by buying billions worth of government bonds. And the Bank of Japan’s aggressive monetary policy served as a cornerstone of “Abenomics” by weakening the yen to supercharge exporters.
These efforts staved off global depression. But they didn’t ignite a strong economic expansion. And now that the world’s second-largest economy, China, is slowing fast, the markets are loudly proclaiming the growing risk of another recession.
This week Japanese stocks endured one of their worst selloffs in history as the yen strengthened, even after the BoJ pushed interest rates below zero. Europe’s debt crisis flared anew. And in the US, with markets 10% down from their May 2015 peak, Fed chair Janet Yellen acknowledged that the Fed might have to slow or even reverse its plan to gradually raise interest rates.
The fact is central bankers, for all their nearly magical powers, can’t keep the global economy moving forward alone. It’s clear that elected governments now need to act by spending some of the money central banks created, either with investment projects or with tax cuts.
This isn’t a controversial claim. John Maynard Keynes warned 80 years ago that when interest rates got near zero, they would become ineffective—”pushing on a string,” as Keynes artfully put it—and government spending would be required. And Milton Friedman in 1969 argued an economy mired in a deep depression and deflation could always print money and give it away.
These solutions have something in common. They both sidestep banking systems that look less like conduits for capital and more like clogged pipes. The rapidly eroding confidence in the markets shows it’s time to give them a try.—Matt Phillips
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
Does violence make the man? Two men squaring off in a ring and fighting is the most macho display in sport. To explore the nature of masculinity, Thomas McBee entered the ring at Madison Square Garden—the first transgender man to do so—and writes about what he learned in his attempt to understand what fighting has to do with manhood. Our video team followed his months of training and the fight day itself.
When Disney kids become Disney adults. Corinne Purtill and Erik Olsen venture into the world of the Disneybounders—young adults who dress up not exactly as Disney characters, but in clothes that evoke them. Their subculture seems to represent a blurring of the line between children’s and adults’ entertainment—a very Gen-Y, liminal space that juggernauts like Disney are just now starting to get to grips with.
What a Trump presidency would actually look like. With Trump garnering voters in the early primary races, Gwynn Guildford decided to follow his stated policies to their (il)logical conclusions. If you’ve ever wondered about the logistics and economic impact of deporting 11 million people or building a 2,000 mile border wall, this one’s for you.
The energy source of the future? The power of the tides is far greater and more reliable than wind, but also enormously difficult to harness. Cassie Werber looks at a £1 billion prototype project being built in Scotland that will power 175,000 homes with giant turbines sunk into the sea.
What are diamond companies really selling? Here’s a hint: It has nothing to do with cut, clarity, color, or carats. Rather, it’s the conviction that diamonds carry an eternal sense of value and romance. Jenni Avins explores the staggering invention, perpetuation, and global reach of what De Beers itself has identified as “the diamond dream.”
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
How to Snapchat like the teens. Buzzfeed’s Ben Rosen persuaded his 13-year-old sister to teach him Snapchat. What ensues is a treatise on “streaking”, emoji strategy, and how not to be a “NARP” that will probably give you more insight into a teenager’s mind than anything else you’ve heard this year, especially from a teenager.
How gravitational waves were found. The New Yorker’s Nicola Twilley has the backstory of this week’s momentous discovery. It’s a tale above all of machinery—the extraordinarily complicated, ridiculously sensitive machinery, much of it requiring major advances in various scientific and technological fields—required to detect a signal from over a billion years ago.
Does Hillary Clinton deserve the black vote? In The Nation, Michelle Alexander—author of the influential book on race The New Jim Crow—argues that Clinton supported her husband as he enacted laws that decimated the black population, lobbied for bills that disproportionately impacted black Americans, and continues to use the same harmful rhetoric today, just slightly modernized.
The Congolese dandies of Cape Town. Christopher Clark in Narrative.ly profiles, in words and pictures, the sapeurs. These dashingly-dressed men (“beige chinos, matching waistcoat and hat, sunset orange suit jacket and gloves, all rounded off with a $600 pair of brogue shoes”) whose style evolved as a kind of protest against Belgian and French colonialism, now act as a kind of symbolic nucleus in the Congolese diaspora.
What it’s like to live on Mars. Six people are spending a year in a sealed dome on the slopes of Mauna Kea to simulate living in a Mars outpost—right down to the 20-minute communications delay. Sheyna Gifford, the crew’s doctor and in-house journalist, writes in Aeon about how life on the cutting-edge of human achievement is sometimes most similar to civilization’s earliest days.
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