In most downturns, easier monetary policy does the trick. Lower interest rates make it cheaper to borrow and also change the trade-off between saving and spending.
This may not be the usual sort of downturn, however, with consumers going through a period of debt revulsion after the excesses of recent years, even so the consensus is that after two or three quarters of falling output, a slow and sluggish recovery will be under way.
These hopes are likely to be dashed, unless there is intervention at home and internationally to tackle the crisis.
Domestically, the priority should be to stop homes that have been foreclosed being auctioned on the open market, since by selling them at a 50 percent discount property prices are driven down.
The US does not seem to have learned the lessons from Japan, which encouraged a fire sale of property in the 1990s and was sucked into a classic debt deflation trap as a result.
Those who argue, with some force, that it would be counter-productive to intervene in the market because the US needs to work the rottenness out of its system must recognize that the cold turkey option will be very long and painful.
The second form of intervention should be to shore up the dollar, the collapse of which is worrying countries that rely heavily on exports and is the main reason for the surge in commodity prices.
Coordinated intervention by the major central banks needs to be at the top of the agenda at next month's G7 meeting in Washington, and there could be action even sooner if the dollar continues to tank.
In the longer term, lessons must be learnt from the turmoil. One is that you do not solve the problems of a collapsing bubble by blowing up another, which is what Alan Greenspan did after the dotcom fiasco in 2001 – the most irresponsible behavior of any central banker in living memory.
The second lesson is that there has to be far stricter regulation not just of the US real estate market but of Wall Street, to prevent the return of irresponsible lending as soon as the recovery is firmly under way.
If this is, heaven help us, The Big One, one of the only consolations will be that the repugnance at the orgy of speculation that has sapped the strength of the US economy will put a new New Deal on the political agenda.
Yet if this crisis really does get as bad as some are forecasting, the public will rightly demand more than a slap on the wrist for Wall Street.
(China Daily via The Guardian March 18, 2008)