Amid one of the worst market routs on record, a chorus of reassuring economic commentators insists that global fundamentals are sound and investors are overreacting, behaving like a panicked herd. Don’t be so sure.
Consider, for example, how wrong economists have been about the effects of the 2008 financial debacle. In April 2010, the IMF declared the crisis over and projected annualized global growth of 4.6 percent by 2015. By April 2015, the forecast had declined to 3.4 percent. When the weak last quarter’s results are released, the reality will probably be 3 percent or less.
Economists are used to linear models, in which changes follow a relatively gradual and predictable path. But thanks in part to the political and economic shocks of recent years, we live in a highly non-linear world. The late Danish physicist Per Bak explained that after long absences, earthquakes come in quick succession. A breached fault line sends shockwaves that weaken other fault lines, spreading the vulnerabilities.
The subprime crisis of 2007 breached the initial fault line. It damaged U.S. and European banks that had indulged in its excesses. The Americans responded and controlled the damage. Euro-area authorities did not, making them even more susceptible to the Greek earthquake that hit in late-2009.