The U.S. economy’s vital signs may not confirm a diagnosis of depression. The symptoms increasingly point to one.
As in the Great Depression, world trade is collapsing, wealth is evaporating and the banking system is broken. Deflation is a growing threat as companies slash production, pay and prices. And leaders worldwide are having difficulty making headway in halting the self-perpetuating decline.
“We are tracking 1929-1930,” says Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley.
The result: This contraction may leave a lasting imprint on the economy and society, just as the Depression did. In the wake of the devastation of the 1930s, Americans swore off stocks, husbanded their own resources and looked to the government for help. Now, another generation might draw some of the same lessons from the deepest economic collapse of their lifetime.
“This is going to scar the collective psyche,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “People will become much more conservative in borrowing, lending and investing.”
There’s no official definition of what qualifies as a depression. In the 1930s, the unemployment rate rose to 25 percent and the economy shrank by more than a quarter.