The Near- and Longer-Term Prospects for the U.S. Economy: Chairman Ben S. Bernanke at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium, Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (
) -- Good morning. As always, thanks are due to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City for organizing this conference. This year's topic, long-term economic growth, is indeed pertinent--as has so often been the case at this symposium in past years. In particular, the financial crisis and the subsequent slow recovery have caused some to question whether the United States, notwithstanding its long-term record of vigorous economic growth, might not now be facing a prolonged period of stagnation, regardless of its public policy choices. Might not the very slow pace of economic expansion of the past few years, not only in the United States but also in a number of other advanced economies, morph into something far more long-lasting?
I can certainly appreciate these concerns and am fully aware of the challenges that we face in restoring economic and financial conditions conducive to healthy growth, some of which I will comment on today. With respect to longer-run prospects, however, my own view is more optimistic. As I will discuss, although important problems certainly exist, the growth fundamentals of the United States do not appear to have been permanently altered by the shocks of the past four years. It may take some time, but we can reasonably expect to see a return to growth rates and employment levels consistent with those underlying fundamentals. In the interim, however, the challenges for U.S. economic policymakers are twofold: first, to help our economy further recover from the crisis and the ensuing recession, and second, to do so in a way that will allow the economy to realize its longer-term growth potential. Economic policies should be evaluated in light of both of those objectives.
This morning I will offer some thoughts on why the pace of recovery in the United States has, for the most part, proved disappointing thus far, and I will discuss the Federal Reserve's policy response. I will then turn briefly to the longer-term prospects of our economy and the need for our country's economic policies to be effective from both a shorter-term and longer-term perspective.
Near-Term Prospects for the Economy and Policy
In discussing the prospects for the economy and for policy in the near term, it bears recalling briefly how we got here. The financial crisis that gripped global markets in 2008 and 2009 was more severe than any since the Great Depression. Economic policymakers around the world saw the mounting risks of a global financial meltdown in the fall of 2008 and understood the extraordinarily dire economic consequences that such an event could have. As I have described in previous remarks at this forum, governments and central banks worked forcefully and in close coordination to avert the looming collapse. The actions to stabilize the financial system were accompanied, both in the United States and abroad, by substantial monetary and fiscal stimulus. But notwithstanding these strong and concerted efforts, severe damage to the global economy could not be avoided. The freezing of credit, the sharp drops in asset prices, dysfunction in financial markets, and the resulting blows to confidence sent global production and trade into free fall in late 2008 and early 2009.
We meet here today almost exactly three years since the beginning of the most intense phase of the financial crisis and a bit more than two years since the National Bureau of Economic Research's date for the start of the economic recovery. Where do we stand?
There have been some positive developments over the past few years, particularly when considered in the light of economic prospects as viewed at the depth of the crisis. Overall, the global economy has seen significant growth, led by the emerging-market economies. In the United States, a cyclical recovery, though a modest one by historical standards, is in its ninth quarter. In the financial sphere, the U.S. banking system is generally much healthier now, with banks holding substantially more capital. Credit availability from banks has improved, though it remains tight in categories--such as small business lending--in which the balance sheets of potential borrowers remain impaired. Companies with access to the public bond markets have had no difficulty obtaining credit on favorable terms. Importantly, structural reform is moving forward in the financial sector, with ambitious domestic and international efforts underway to enhance the capital and liquidity of banks, especially the most systemically important banks; to improve risk management and transparency; to strengthen market infrastructure; and to introduce a more systemic, or macroprudential, approach to financial regulation and supervision.