Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In my view, cumulative recessionary dynamics are deeply entrenched, with mounting job losses leading to weaker consumer spending, tighter credit, more job losses, and so on; and this nasty set of economic linkages is gaining momentum. Like the Greenbook, I anticipate a long period of decline, and in fact, the consensus forecast is that we’re now in the longest and one of the deepest postwar recessions.
I hope that a recovery will begin in the middle of next year, but the risks seem skewed to the downside for several reasons. First, compared with the average recession, we face unusually difficult financial conditions. My contacts complain bitterly that even firms with sterling credit ratings have difficulty securing credit. Some banks appear reluctant to lend because financial markets are skeptical about the quality of their assets and their reported net worth. An accounting joke concerning the balance sheets of many financial institutions is now making the rounds, and it summarizes the situation as follows: On the left-hand side, nothing is right; and on the right-hand side, nothing is left. [Laughter] The second factor skewing risk to the downside is the unusually fearful and pessimistic psychology that’s developed. One director, who heads a national department chain, predicts carnage in the retail sector after year-end, as stores close after trying to hold on through the holidays. Although some stores have been able to keep sales up to reasonable levels, heavy price discounting will translate into huge losses. Businesses have also generally turned very cautious, hoarding cash and slashing capital spending. A third factor that worries me is that, in contrast to many past recessions, this one is global in nature, and the fact that it’s a worldwide slowdown—while lowering commodity prices, which is good—is also going to make it harder for us to pull out.
Turning just very briefly to the labor market, the Beveridge curve chart that Stephanie presented during her briefing suggests that we have seen an unusually large increase in the unemployment rate recently in comparison with the decline in job openings, at least in the JOLTS data. I think one interpretation might be that the unemployment rate has risen in part because we have had an unusual rise in labor force participation during this recession. Labor force participation has been higher than would be expected, particularly for three demographic groups: young adults, married women, and older workers nearing retirement. Analysis by my staff estimates that this rise in participation could reflect behavioral responses to unusual credit constraints and wealth declines. Specifically, young adults aged 20 to 24 years appear to be entering the labor force in unusual numbers, and that might reflect diminished access to student loans. Similarly, more married women are entering the labor force, and that’s a possible reflection of diminished access to home equity and credit card loans. Finally, an unusually large number of older workers are in the labor market, and that may reflect the negative wealth shock associated with the collapse of housing values and the plummeting stock market. All in all, I expect the anomalous increase in labor force participation to put continued upward pressure on the unemployment rate.
With respect to inflation, developments since our October meeting have again lowered the outlook. I’m particularly concerned about the disinflationary effect of actual and prospective economic slack. During the postwar period, core PCE inflation has actually fallen at least ¾ percentage point in every single year in which unemployment has averaged 7½ percent or more. Given that in each of the next two years the unemployment rate is predicted to average at least 8 percent, it seems quite likely that by the end of 2010 core inflation will have fallen at least 1½ percentage points. That creates a very real risk of deflation. So under these circumstances, I definitely believe that we should do everything in our power to stimulate aggregate demand.