Paul Krugman, March 1, 2009:
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. ...Ben Bernanke, March 10, 2005:
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 world.
The result was a world awash in cheap money, looking for somewhere to go.
Most of that money went to the United States — hence our giant trade deficit, because a trade deficit is the flip side of capital inflows. But as Mr. Bernanke correctly pointed out, money surged into other nations as well. ...
For a while, the inrush of capital created the illusion of wealth in these countries, just as it did for American homeowners: asset prices were rising, currencies were strong, and everything looked fine. But bubbles always burst sooner or later, and yesterday’s miracle economies have become today’s basket cases, nations whose assets have evaporated but whose debts remain all too real. ...
If you want to know where the global crisis came from, then, think of it this way: we’re looking at the revenge of the glut.
During the past few years, the key asset-price effects of the global saving glut appear to have occurred in the market for residential investment, as low mortgage rates have supported record levels of home construction and strong gains in housing prices.