Revenge of the Glut

Published on by The Inquirer

Paul Krugman


Remember the good old days, when we used to talk about the “subprime crisis” — and some even thought that this crisis could be “contained”? Oh, the nostalgia!

Today we know that subprime lending was only a small fraction of the problem. Even bad home loans in general were only part of what went wrong. We’re living in a world of troubled borrowers, ranging from shopping mall developers to European “miracle” economies. And new kinds of debt trouble just keep emerging.

How did this global debt crisis happen? Why is it so widespread? The answer, I’d suggest, can be found in a speech Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, gave four years ago. At the time, Mr. Bernanke was trying to be reassuring. But what he said then nonetheless foreshadowed the bust to come.

The speech, titled “The Global Saving Glut and the U.S. Current Account Deficit,” offered a novel explanation for the rapid rise of the U.S. trade deficit in the early 21st century. The causes, argued Mr. Bernanke, lay not in America but in Asia.

In the mid-1990s, he pointed out, the emerging economies of Asia had been major importers of capital, borrowing abroad to finance their development. But after the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 (which seemed like a big deal at the time but looks trivial compared with what’s happening now), these countries began protecting themselves by amassing huge war chests of foreign assets, in effect exporting capital to the rest of the more

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