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衰退還是蕭條?聽聽經濟學家們怎么說

衰退還是蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录?聽聽經濟學家們怎么說

Erik Sherman 2020年04月10日
俗話說:“鄰居失業了是經濟衰退,自己失業了就是經濟蕭條?!?/div>

又一項讓經濟預測家驚嘆的數據出爐:上周美國申請失業救濟的人數達到創紀錄的660萬人。牛津經濟研究院在電子郵件中稱,該項數據的“跳漲實在不可思議”,而且還可能成為“新常態”。中間市場審計與咨詢公司RSM首席經濟學家喬·布魯蘇拉斯撰文稱,這種“結構性變化”意味著“實時失業率至少有10.1%?金龙彩票|官网登录!?/p>

當下,全球范圍存在著太多的不確定性,經濟預測家前腳剛發出自己的預測,后腳就要進一步下調那些預測。短短幾周內,高盛便已經數次下調美國第二季度GDP增長預測:從–2%調到–24%,再調到–32%金龙彩票|官网登录。

從種種預測來看,經濟衰退顯然會到來,還可能是非常嚴重的衰退金龙彩票|官网登录。但是金龙彩票|官网登录,鑒于形勢瞬息萬變金龙彩票|官网登录,美國經濟有沒可能不只是衰退,而是走向蕭條呢?

《財富》與10位經濟學家和金融市場專家討論了這一問題。目前,他們大多認為美國經濟衰退基本板上釘釘。至于是否會嚴重到經濟蕭條的地步?他們之間有極大的分歧金龙彩票|官网登录。

畢竟金龙彩票|官网登录,根據美國國家經濟研究局的數據金龙彩票|官网登录,自1900年以來的22次經濟衰退中金龙彩票|官网登录,只有一次嚴重到稱得上“大蕭條”。十九世紀前則有過四次大蕭條。

現在似乎有兩個陣營金龙彩票|官网登录。一個陣營認為,經濟基本面大體上是穩健的金龙彩票|官网登录,幾乎無法想象會出現蕭條。另一個陣營認為,蕭條是大概率事件。

經濟蕭條的定義是什么?

經濟衰退通常被定義為連續兩個季度出現GDP負增長,而經濟蕭條則沒有一個統一的定義。

由于沒有一個官方的定義,經濟學家們有著多種不同的定義版本。據佛羅里達國際大學金融學教授、金融系主任拉希德·哈米德稱,有的經濟學家認為,“經濟蕭條,就是連續兩年或以上出現GDP下滑金龙彩票|官网登录。有的認為是連續兩年GDP下滑幅度超過10%。也有人認為是連續兩年失業率超過10%金龙彩票|官网登录〗鹆势眧官网登录!?/p>

還有一些經濟學家傾向于從對比的角度來看待這一問題。喬治梅森大學商學院金融學副教授德里克·霍斯特梅爾表示,“有的人說,出現一年嚴重的經濟萎縮就算蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录。有的人則將時限拉長一些〗鹆势眧官网登录!?/p>

甚至還有一個問題是,是否必須所有人都同時陷入經濟麻煩,才算得上經濟蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录?!坝械纳鐣A層深陷經濟泥沼(蕭條),有的階層則從別人的困境中得到滋養,過著奢華的生活,這種情況是有可能發生的?!苯洕鷮W家邁克爾·美林指出金龙彩票|官网登录,“傳統的美國中產階級從1970年代中期就清楚知道這種情況,非裔美國人甚至知道得更早。這種問題的影響金龙彩票|官网登录,在每一項常見的健康、經濟和社會福利統計數據上都會明顯顯現出來金龙彩票|官网登录?!泵懒质橇_格斯管理與勞動關系學院專業實踐教授兼勞動教育行動研究網絡主任。

又或者,正如投資銀行公司Cassel Salpeter & Co聯合創始人兼董事長詹姆斯·卡塞爾所提到的那句俗話所言,“鄰居失業了是經濟衰退,自己失業了就是經濟蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录?金龙彩票|官网登录!?/p>

與衰退一樣,蕭條通常也是經濟數據出爐以后才能事后診斷。但到那個時候金龙彩票|官网登录,事情通常都已經發生了,而不是正在發生金龙彩票|官网登录,這一點要不同于美國生活許多其它的方面。

“我們實際上掌握了主流廣播節目每分鐘的聽眾數據金龙彩票|官网登录,”威奇塔州立大學巴頓商學院國際商務特聘講座教授、管理學教授兼國際商務發展中心主任烏沙·哈利指出,“我們知道誰會去購買產品金龙彩票|官网登录,會發生什么。而這一次,我們頭一回沒有做出預測所需要的那些經濟數據?!苯洕蝿葑兓煲蔡罅?,以至于預測家根本無法根據最近的模式建立預測模型。

哈米德說金龙彩票|官网登录,“這種(涉及疫情的)情況非常罕見,經濟學家沒有辦法建立良好的模型來預測經濟復蘇會是什么樣的金龙彩票|官网登录?金龙彩票|官网登录!?/p>

經濟學家衡量GDP的方式也存在一個固有的問題。他們通常是關注季度之間的變動金龙彩票|官网登录,然后據此估算年度增長率。例如,預測說第二季度GDP將下跌32%金龙彩票|官网登录,它就意味著金龙彩票|官网登录,假定第一季度和第二季度之間的變動幅度維持一整年,那么這一年的全年GDP也將下跌32%。

這對于外行人來說可能不大好理解?!鞍凑占径拳h比計算的方式金龙彩票|官网登录,如果第一季度經濟大幅下滑,第二季度也出現同樣的下滑幅度,那么經濟增長為零〗鹆势眧官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录!盩S Lombard首席美國經濟學家史蒂文·布利茨指出金龙彩票|官网登录。經濟學家和媒體提到的增長率一下子就變成0%,聽起來比下跌32%要好得多金龙彩票|官网登录,但情況仍然很糟糕。

鑒于所有的這些因素金龙彩票|官网登录,美國經濟是否正走向蕭條,實在很不好判斷。

樂觀派

在樂觀派看來,美國經濟跌得有多快金龙彩票|官网登录,反彈就有多快。他們給出的論據包括,疫情爆發前美國經濟整體表現強勁,疫情并不涉及經濟本質金龙彩票|官网登录,以及一旦人們的工作和生活恢復正常,疫情期間被抑制的消費需求會徹底爆發的推論。

佛羅里達國際大學的哈米德等人認為,鑒于疫情危機爆發前美國經濟向好,出現蕭條的“可能性非常非常低?!蓖嫱兄萘⒋髮W的哈利表示認同,“我們處在漩渦的最中心,我們在戰斗。疫情一旦結束,我們就會收復失地〗鹆势眧官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录!?/p>

威斯康星大學密爾沃基分校經濟學教授昆丹·基肖爾在發給《財富》的電子郵件中稱,經濟蕭條的可能性只有“百分之一”。他認為可能會出現兩種情況:一是經濟暫時大幅下滑,但第三季度和第四季度迅速復蘇;二是如果疫情在秋季重新爆發,會出現“雙底型衰退”。

在卡內基梅隆大學泰珀商學院經濟學教授塞文·耶爾特金看來,如果經濟下行發生金龙彩票|官网登录,并持續數月金龙彩票|官网登录,那么情況會更嚴峻?!暗墙鹆势眧官网登录,如果我們能夠重啟經濟活動,哪怕只是非全面的重啟,資本都不會被摧毀金龙彩票|官网登录,”她說道,“就業崗位也不會被大量摧毀。復蘇應該會很快,因而不會有什么風險?!?/p>

“經濟活動的收縮是疫情導致的金龙彩票|官网登录,迫不得已的,因此日后能夠恢復過來。所以說,這一次與往常因為政策失誤演變成蕭條的經濟衰退大不相同?!?TS Lombard的布利茨說道。

悲觀派

還有另一種觀點金龙彩票|官网登录?金龙彩票|官网登录!艾F在大多數經濟模型都顯示金龙彩票|官网登录,第二季度失業率將高達25%到30%金龙彩票|官网登录,”喬治梅森大學教授霍斯特梅爾更多地從經濟萎縮的程度而非持續時間來談,“當前傳出的數據真的非常糟糕。這些預測比大蕭條時期的任何情況都要糟糕。因此,我們當然可以稱之為蕭條,即便它只是持續一兩個季度?!?/p>

約翰斯·霍普金斯大學凱瑞商學院金融學副教授亞歷山德羅·雷布奇利用能源使用、交通模式等間接的經濟活動指標展開了研究。他也強調,其研究結果顯示,此次經濟萎縮相當嚴重?!按舜嗡ネ藥砹司薮蟮奶魬?,而且可能會持續更久,進一步惡化,甚至可能會變得比2008年至09年的大衰退還要嚴重。那次大衰退持續了六個季度,失業率達到10%?!彼f,“目前有些估算說,這一次可能要嚴重兩到三倍,比大蕭條時期還要糟糕金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

雷布奇還指出,瀑布效應將會蔓延到整個經濟?!叭藗儗㈤_始失去工作,這意味著他們也將失去房子?!彼f道,“我們習慣于認為,經濟衰退是由短期沖擊造成的。但這一次的沖擊不僅會持續一段時間,還會產生長期的影響。令人震驚的是,各家機構仍然在發出溫和的GDP下行預測。因為他們不想拉響警報引起恐慌?!?/p>

“出現蕭條的可能性相當高了金龙彩票|官网登录,”羅格斯大學的美林表示——事實上他認為可能已經進入蕭條了。雖然經濟刺激計劃將“在一定程度上減緩衰退,”但要真正改變經濟航向,就必須得應對好并控制住疫情金龙彩票|官网登录,然后逐漸恢復人們對經濟的信心?!爸灰藗儗θド虉?、雜貨店或者理發店,就有得重病甚至死亡風險,這種恐懼一天未能消除金龙彩票|官网登录,經濟就一天不復蘇?金龙彩票|官网登录!彼f。

如何避免經濟蕭條的風險

布利茨說,美國要避免經濟蕭條,必須做到三件事。

首先,美聯儲必須盡其所能確?!靶庞蔑L險傳染不會蔓延到整個經濟體系金龙彩票|官网登录?!泵缆搩σ呀洸扇×嗽S多2008年金融危機以來從未采取過的非常規舉措金龙彩票|官网登录,希望這些舉措會讓全球金融體系保持正常運轉。然而,要是再疊加流動性問題,美聯儲可能會無計可施。

其次金龙彩票|官网登录,聯邦政府需要有合適且規模夠大的財政應對措施金龙彩票|官网登录。2萬億美元的經濟救助計劃固然龐大,但布利茨認為這可能不是上上策?!敖o民眾發錢花的問題在于,你還得權衡社交疏遠措施對人們消費支出的抑制?!辈祭恼f到,“我寧愿政府先給所有非國防政府機構提供1萬億美元的經費?!?/p>

布利茨說的第三點是最大的問題,即經濟活動停擺需要盡快結束金龙彩票|官网登录?!耙M早停止實施這種社交疏遠措施,政府必須意識到,這件事不能拖到6個月乃至12個月才完成?!彼f,“接著,他們必須鼓勵人們多外出,恢復往常的生活金龙彩票|官网登录。政府一旦掌握了這種讓一切停擺的權力金龙彩票|官网登录,就不愿輕易放棄?!?/p>

美國總統特朗普稱希望最早在4月底結束隔離,但政府所使用的數學模型顯示,社交疏遠措施可能至少要持續到5月底。這就會加劇經濟問題金龙彩票|官网登录。

因為,正當科學家們努力地在新冠病毒治療和疫苗方面取得進展之時,經濟學家們仍在苦苦尋找可使經濟走出蕭條的靈丹妙藥。(財富中文網)

譯者:萬志文

又一項讓經濟預測家驚嘆的數據出爐:上周美國申請失業救濟的人數達到創紀錄的660萬人金龙彩票|官网登录。牛津經濟研究院在電子郵件中稱金龙彩票|官网登录,該項數據的“跳漲實在不可思議”金龙彩票|官网登录,而且還可能成為“新常態”。中間市場審計與咨詢公司RSM首席經濟學家喬·布魯蘇拉斯撰文稱,這種“結構性變化”意味著“實時失業率至少有10.1%?!?/p>

當下,全球范圍存在著太多的不確定性,經濟預測家前腳剛發出自己的預測,后腳就要進一步下調那些預測。短短幾周內,高盛便已經數次下調美國第二季度GDP增長預測:從–2%調到–24%,再調到–32%。

從種種預測來看,經濟衰退顯然會到來,還可能是非常嚴重的衰退。但是金龙彩票|官网登录,鑒于形勢瞬息萬變,美國經濟有沒可能不只是衰退,而是走向蕭條呢金龙彩票|官网登录?

《財富》與10位經濟學家和金融市場專家討論了這一問題。目前金龙彩票|官网登录,他們大多認為美國經濟衰退基本板上釘釘。至于是否會嚴重到經濟蕭條的地步?他們之間有極大的分歧。

畢竟金龙彩票|官网登录,根據美國國家經濟研究局的數據,自1900年以來的22次經濟衰退中金龙彩票|官网登录,只有一次嚴重到稱得上“大蕭條”金龙彩票|官网登录。十九世紀前則有過四次大蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录。

現在似乎有兩個陣營。一個陣營認為,經濟基本面大體上是穩健的,幾乎無法想象會出現蕭條。另一個陣營認為,蕭條是大概率事件金龙彩票|官网登录。

經濟蕭條的定義是什么?

經濟衰退通常被定義為連續兩個季度出現GDP負增長,而經濟蕭條則沒有一個統一的定義。

由于沒有一個官方的定義金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录,經濟學家們有著多種不同的定義版本金龙彩票|官网登录。據佛羅里達國際大學金融學教授、金融系主任拉希德·哈米德稱,有的經濟學家認為,“經濟蕭條,就是連續兩年或以上出現GDP下滑。有的認為是連續兩年GDP下滑幅度超過10%。也有人認為是連續兩年失業率超過10%金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

還有一些經濟學家傾向于從對比的角度來看待這一問題。喬治梅森大學商學院金融學副教授德里克·霍斯特梅爾表示,“有的人說,出現一年嚴重的經濟萎縮就算蕭條。有的人則將時限拉長一些?!?/p>

甚至還有一個問題是金龙彩票|官网登录,是否必須所有人都同時陷入經濟麻煩,才算得上經濟蕭條?金龙彩票|官网登录!坝械纳鐣A層深陷經濟泥沼(蕭條),有的階層則從別人的困境中得到滋養金龙彩票|官网登录,過著奢華的生活,這種情況是有可能發生的?!苯洕鷮W家邁克爾·美林指出金龙彩票|官网登录,“傳統的美國中產階級從1970年代中期就清楚知道這種情況,非裔美國人甚至知道得更早。這種問題的影響,在每一項常見的健康、經濟和社會福利統計數據上都會明顯顯現出來?!泵懒质橇_格斯管理與勞動關系學院專業實踐教授兼勞動教育行動研究網絡主任金龙彩票|官网登录。

又或者,正如投資銀行公司Cassel Salpeter & Co聯合創始人兼董事長詹姆斯·卡塞爾所提到的那句俗話所言,“鄰居失業了是經濟衰退,自己失業了就是經濟蕭條?!?/p>

與衰退一樣,蕭條通常也是經濟數據出爐以后才能事后診斷。但到那個時候,事情通常都已經發生了,而不是正在發生,這一點要不同于美國生活許多其它的方面。

“我們實際上掌握了主流廣播節目每分鐘的聽眾數據,”威奇塔州立大學巴頓商學院國際商務特聘講座教授、管理學教授兼國際商務發展中心主任烏沙·哈利指出,“我們知道誰會去購買產品,會發生什么。而這一次,我們頭一回沒有做出預測所需要的那些經濟數據?!苯洕蝿葑兓煲蔡罅?金龙彩票|官网登录,以至于預測家根本無法根據最近的模式建立預測模型金龙彩票|官网登录。

哈米德說,“這種(涉及疫情的)情況非常罕見,經濟學家沒有辦法建立良好的模型來預測經濟復蘇會是什么樣的?!?/p>

經濟學家衡量GDP的方式也存在一個固有的問題。他們通常是關注季度之間的變動,然后據此估算年度增長率。例如,預測說第二季度GDP將下跌32%金龙彩票|官网登录,它就意味著,假定第一季度和第二季度之間的變動幅度維持一整年,那么這一年的全年GDP也將下跌32%。

這對于外行人來說可能不大好理解金龙彩票|官网登录?!鞍凑占径拳h比計算的方式金龙彩票|官网登录,如果第一季度經濟大幅下滑,第二季度也出現同樣的下滑幅度金龙彩票|官网登录,那么經濟增長為零?!盩S Lombard首席美國經濟學家史蒂文·布利茨指出。經濟學家和媒體提到的增長率一下子就變成0%金龙彩票|官网登录,聽起來比下跌32%要好得多,但情況仍然很糟糕金龙彩票|官网登录。

鑒于所有的這些因素,美國經濟是否正走向蕭條,實在很不好判斷。

樂觀派

在樂觀派看來金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录,美國經濟跌得有多快金龙彩票|官网登录,反彈就有多快金龙彩票|官网登录。他們給出的論據包括,疫情爆發前美國經濟整體表現強勁金龙彩票|官网登录,疫情并不涉及經濟本質,以及一旦人們的工作和生活恢復正常,疫情期間被抑制的消費需求會徹底爆發的推論金龙彩票|官网登录。

佛羅里達國際大學的哈米德等人認為,鑒于疫情危機爆發前美國經濟向好金龙彩票|官网登录,出現蕭條的“可能性非常非常低?!蓖嫱兄萘⒋髮W的哈利表示認同,“我們處在漩渦的最中心,我們在戰斗。疫情一旦結束,我們就會收復失地金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

威斯康星大學密爾沃基分校經濟學教授昆丹·基肖爾在發給《財富》的電子郵件中稱金龙彩票|官网登录,經濟蕭條的可能性只有“百分之一”。他認為可能會出現兩種情況:一是經濟暫時大幅下滑,但第三季度和第四季度迅速復蘇;二是如果疫情在秋季重新爆發金龙彩票|官网登录,會出現“雙底型衰退”。

在卡內基梅隆大學泰珀商學院經濟學教授塞文·耶爾特金看來,如果經濟下行發生,并持續數月金龙彩票|官网登录,那么情況會更嚴峻?!暗?金龙彩票|官网登录,如果我們能夠重啟經濟活動,哪怕只是非全面的重啟,資本都不會被摧毀,”她說道,“就業崗位也不會被大量摧毀金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录。復蘇應該會很快,因而不會有什么風險金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

“經濟活動的收縮是疫情導致的,迫不得已的,因此日后能夠恢復過來。所以說,這一次與往常因為政策失誤演變成蕭條的經濟衰退大不相同金龙彩票|官网登录?!?TS Lombard的布利茨說道金龙彩票|官网登录。

悲觀派

還有另一種觀點〗鹆势眧官网登录!艾F在大多數經濟模型都顯示金龙彩票|官网登录,第二季度失業率將高達25%到30%,”喬治梅森大學教授霍斯特梅爾更多地從經濟萎縮的程度而非持續時間來談,“當前傳出的數據真的非常糟糕金龙彩票|官网登录。這些預測比大蕭條時期的任何情況都要糟糕。因此,我們當然可以稱之為蕭條,即便它只是持續一兩個季度?!?/p>

約翰斯·霍普金斯大學凱瑞商學院金融學副教授亞歷山德羅·雷布奇利用能源使用金龙彩票|官网登录、交通模式等間接的經濟活動指標展開了研究。他也強調,其研究結果顯示,此次經濟萎縮相當嚴重?!按舜嗡ネ藥砹司薮蟮奶魬?,而且可能會持續更久金龙彩票|官网登录,進一步惡化金龙彩票|官网登录,甚至可能會變得比2008年至09年的大衰退還要嚴重金龙彩票|官网登录。那次大衰退持續了六個季度,失業率達到10%?!彼f,“目前有些估算說,這一次可能要嚴重兩到三倍金龙彩票|官网登录金龙彩票|官网登录,比大蕭條時期還要糟糕?!?/p>

雷布奇還指出金龙彩票|官网登录,瀑布效應將會蔓延到整個經濟金龙彩票|官网登录?金龙彩票|官网登录!叭藗儗㈤_始失去工作,這意味著他們也將失去房子?!彼f道,“我們習慣于認為,經濟衰退是由短期沖擊造成的。但這一次的沖擊不僅會持續一段時間,還會產生長期的影響。令人震驚的是,各家機構仍然在發出溫和的GDP下行預測金龙彩票|官网登录。因為他們不想拉響警報引起恐慌?!?/p>

“出現蕭條的可能性相當高了,”羅格斯大學的美林表示——事實上他認為可能已經進入蕭條了。雖然經濟刺激計劃將“在一定程度上減緩衰退,”但要真正改變經濟航向,就必須得應對好并控制住疫情,然后逐漸恢復人們對經濟的信心?金龙彩票|官网登录!爸灰藗儗θド虉?、雜貨店或者理發店,就有得重病甚至死亡風險,這種恐懼一天未能消除金龙彩票|官网登录,經濟就一天不復蘇金龙彩票|官网登录?金龙彩票|官网登录!彼f。

如何避免經濟蕭條的風險

布利茨說,美國要避免經濟蕭條金龙彩票|官网登录,必須做到三件事金龙彩票|官网登录。

首先,美聯儲必須盡其所能確?!靶庞蔑L險傳染不會蔓延到整個經濟體系?金龙彩票|官网登录!泵缆搩σ呀洸扇×嗽S多2008年金融危機以來從未采取過的非常規舉措,希望這些舉措會讓全球金融體系保持正常運轉。然而,要是再疊加流動性問題金龙彩票|官网登录,美聯儲可能會無計可施。

其次,聯邦政府需要有合適且規模夠大的財政應對措施。2萬億美元的經濟救助計劃固然龐大,但布利茨認為這可能不是上上策〗鹆势眧官网登录!敖o民眾發錢花的問題在于金龙彩票|官网登录,你還得權衡社交疏遠措施對人們消費支出的抑制?!辈祭恼f到,“我寧愿政府先給所有非國防政府機構提供1萬億美元的經費〗鹆势眧官网登录!?/p>

布利茨說的第三點是最大的問題,即經濟活動停擺需要盡快結束金龙彩票|官网登录?!耙M早停止實施這種社交疏遠措施金龙彩票|官网登录,政府必須意識到,這件事不能拖到6個月乃至12個月才完成?金龙彩票|官网登录!彼f,“接著,他們必須鼓勵人們多外出,恢復往常的生活。政府一旦掌握了這種讓一切停擺的權力,就不愿輕易放棄金龙彩票|官网登录?!?/p>

美國總統特朗普稱希望最早在4月底結束隔離,但政府所使用的數學模型顯示,社交疏遠措施可能至少要持續到5月底金龙彩票|官网登录。這就會加劇經濟問題。

因為,正當科學家們努力地在新冠病毒治療和疫苗方面取得進展之時金龙彩票|官网登录,經濟學家們仍在苦苦尋找可使經濟走出蕭條的靈丹妙藥金龙彩票|官网登录。(財富中文網)

譯者:萬志文

Another day, another surprise for the economic forecasters: a record 6.6 million people filed for unemployment last week. Oxford Economics in an email called it an "incomprehensible jump" that may be "the new normal." Joe Brusuelas, chief economist for middle market audit and advisory firm RSM, wrote that such "tectonic shifts" imply a "real-time unemployment rate of 10.1% at a minimum."

There is so much uncertainty in the world right now that economic forecasters are downgrading their predictions almost as fast as they can make them. Within a few weeks, Goldman Sachs downgraded its second quarter GDP estimates from –2% to –24% to –32%.

Predictions are pretty clear that a recession, and maybe a very bad one, is in the offing. But given how quickly the situation is changing, is there a chance the country is heading for a depression?

Fortune discussed the issue with 10 economists and financial market experts. Most at this point consider a recession essentially a given. And a depression? That's where opinions start to diverge wildly.

After all, out of the 22 recessions since 1900, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, only one was dire enough to warrant such a title: the Great Depression. There had been four in the preceding 19th century.

Right now there appear to be two camps. Those in the first say economic fundamentals have been essentially sound and that a depression is almost unthinkable. The other group says that a depression is very much a possibility.

What is a depression?

Unlike a recession—two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth—there is no compact universal definition of a depression.

Absent an official definition, economists have a variety of working ones. According to some, "in a depression, you have to have a decline in GDP of two or more years," said Shahid Hamid, professor of finance and chair of the finance department at Florida International University. "Another is if the GDP decline is greater than 10% [for two years]. A third is if unemployment is more than 10%," again for two years.

Then there are economists who take a more relative approach. "Some people say it has to be a year [of severe economic contraction]," said Derek Horstmeyer, an associate professor of finance at the George Mason University School of Business. "Some people push it further."

There is even a question as to whether it must be obvious to everyone at the same time. "It is possible for one sector of a society to be trapped in an economic trough—a depression—while another sector is feeding from the trough and living the high life," said Michael Merrill, an economist, professor of professional practice, and director of the Labor Education Action Research Network in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations. "Traditional Middle America has known exactly such a situation since the mid-1970s, and African-Americans have known it for even longer. The effects are evident in every health, economic, and social welfare statistic one might want to consult."

Or, as goes the old saying that James Cassel, cofounder and chairman of investment banking firm Cassel Salpeter & Co., mentioned: "When your friend's out of a job, it's a recession. When you're out of a job, it's a depression."

As with recessions, depressions are typically diagnosed in retrospect, after the data is in. But that typically comes after events have happened and not as they are occurring, unlike in many other aspects of American life.

"We actually have data for minute-by-minute listeners to major radio shows," said Usha Haley, W. Frank Barton distinguished chair in international business, professor of management, and director of the Center for International Business Advancement of Wichita State University. "We know who's going to buy products and what's going to happen. Here, for the first time, we don't have [the economic data we need to forecast]." The changes are so swift and large that forecasters can't build projections from patterns in the recent past.

"This [pandemic] scenario is very new, and economists don't have a good model to predict how the recovery would be," Hamid said.

There is also an inherent issue in how economists measure GDP. They usually look at change between quarters and then project that out into an annual growth rate. When a forecast projects that GDP will be –32% in the second quarter, it's really saying that if the change between the first and second quarter kept up all year, it would be like losing 32% of GDP over that year.

That can get confusing for a lay audience when trying to understand the state of things. "The way the quarter-over-quarter math works, if it goes down a lot in quarter one and it stays at that low level of activity in quarter two, [the rate is] zero," said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist of TS Lombard. Suddenly the rate economists and the media mention is 0%, which sounds far better than –32%, but it means things are still as bad.

Between all these factors, trying to pinpoint whether we're heading for a depression is extremely difficult.

The optimists

The optimists, if you can call them that, cite a basically strong economy, the noneconomic nature of the pandemic, and the presumption of pent-up demand once things are back to normal as evidence that as quickly as we fell into this hole, we can pull out of it.

Florida International University's Hamid is among those who think a depression is "very, very unlikely" given the economy's performance coming into the crisis. Haley at Wichita State University agreed. "We're in the center of it all," she said. "We're on the battlefield. Once that is over, we will recoup."

In an email to Fortune, Kundan Kishor, a professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, saw a depression as only a "one out of 100 chance." He sees two potential likely scenarios. One is a large drop in the economy and rapid recovery in the third and fourth quarters. The other is a "double-dip recession" if the pandemic reemerges in the fall.

If an economic fall happens and continues for months, the situation becomes more grave, thinks Sevin Yeltekin, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. "But if we can restart, even a staggering restart, we're not really destroying capital," she said. "We're not destroying labor. The ramping up should happen quite quickly," putting danger at a distance.

"When you recognize that the contraction of economic activity was imposed [as a response to the pandemic] and therefore can be lifted, that makes this very different from your plain-vanilla ordinary recession in which policy missteps turned into a depression," explained TS Lombard's Blitz.

The pessimists

And then there is the other view. "Most economic models now point to a 25% to 30% unemployment rate in Q2," said George Mason's Horstmeyer, who focuses more on the degree of contraction and not the length. "The numbers we're seeing trickling in are very bad. This projection is worse than anything we saw in the Great Depression. So we can certainly call this a depression even if it only lasts for a quarter or two."

Alessandro Rebucci, an associate professor of finance at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, also stressed the depth of the collapse that his research shows using current indirect measures of activity, like energy use and traffic patterns. "This [recession] poses formidable challenges and could be more prolonged and more severe, possibly worse than the Great Recession of 2008 to ’09, which lasted six quarters and saw the unemployment rate reaching 10% of the labor force," he said. "Current estimates put it at two to four times as severe, making it more profound than the Great Depression."

Rebucci also points to cascading effects that will stretch through the economy. "People will start to lose jobs, which means they will lose houses," he said. "We're used to thinking of recession driven by shocks that are short-lived. This is not only a shock that will last a while but will have long-term effects. What is shocking is that institutions continue to forecast moderate output declines, which has to do with the fact that they don't want to sound the alarm."

"The odds of a depression are quite high," says Merrill of Rutgers—in fact he thinks we might already be in one. While the stimulus packages will "slow the decline somewhat," changing the direction of the economy means addressing the pandemic and bringing it under control, and then restoring confidence afterward. "As long as people remain afraid of getting deathly ill and maybe dying every time they go to a mall, grocery store, or barber shop, the economy will not recover," he said.

Avoiding the danger

For the U.S. to avoid a depression, says Blitz, three things must occur.

First, the Federal Reserve must do everything in its power to ensure that "credit contagion doesn't cascade through the system." The Fed has taken many extraordinary steps not seen since the 2008 collapse, which hopefully will keep the global financial systems operating. If there are additional liquidity problems, however, the Fed may have reached the end of its options.

Second, the federal government needs a large enough fiscal response of the right type. The $2 trillion aid package is enormous, but Blitz thinks it may not offer the best approach. "The problem with giving people money to spend [is that] you have to be balancing that against the fact that you have social distancing rules preventing people from spending money," Blitz said. "I'd rather them front-load a trillion dollars of spending by all the various nondefense government agencies."

The biggest question is Blitz's third point—that the shutdown of activity needs to end quickly. "You need to stop the imposition of social distancing sooner [rather] than later, and government has to realize that the lifting of this can't be a six- to 12-month process," he said. "Then they have to encourage people to go out and live their lives. Once government takes this power to shut things down, they're very reluctant to give it up."

Although Donald Trump has said that he'd like to end isolation by the end of April at the earliest, the mathematical models the administration is using suggest that social distancing may have to continue through at least May. And that aggravates the problem.

Because while scientists are working to make strides on treatments and vaccines for coronavirus, economists are still searching for their magic bullet: a way to bring an economy out of a depression.

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