Mon, Jan 06, 2014 - Page 15 News List

Economists predict stronger US growth

BUILDING BRIDGES:Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Summers are optimistic about the future, but both say the US should invest heavily in infrastructure to boost growth


US economic growth will accelerate this year even as the pace of expansion remains sub-par almost five years after the end of the recession, according to academic economists and former policymakers.

“2014 is going to be a better year,” Martin Feldstein, a professor at Harvard University and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under former US president Ronald Reagan, said on Saturday in Philadelphia. “There is no reason for pessimism about our near future if we adopt appropriate policies.”

Feldstein pointed to diminishing drag from fiscal policy and an US$8 trillion increase in household wealth over the last 12 months from rising stocks and home prices. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 30 percent last year for its biggest advance since 1997, while house prices rose in October from a year earlier by the most in more than seven years, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index of values in 20 cities.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is among the Wall Street banks turning more optimistic, predicting last week the economy will expand 2.8 percent this year, an increase from its 2.5 percent estimate of a month ago and faster than the 1.9 percent it calculates for last year.

Former US secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers and John Taylor of Stanford University agreed in interviews that stronger growth this year was possible even as they clashed over what more policy makers could do to speed expansion.

“I’m not arguing with Marty about being a little more optimistic, but I think it’s a mistake to say that all’s well,” Summers, who also teaches at Harvard, said at the annual conference of the American Economic Association.

Taylor, a former Treasury undersecretary, said growth this year “will be better but to me it’s still disappointing — it’s not going to be what it could be.”

To propel growth, both Summers and Feldstein advocated a multiyear program of increased government spending on infrastructure projects such as improved transportation links. Feldstein said a US$1 trillion, five-year fiscal plan should be offset by efforts to slow the growth of Social Security and Medicare outlays in the longer run.

“Expansionary fiscal policy is the right, primary response to our current woes,” said Summers, a former director of US President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council. “An increase in demand is required.”

Taylor blamed policymakers for undermining the economy by acting unpredictably and intervening too much, sowing confusion among companies and consumers about the economic outlook. Among his targets: a lack of clarity toward bank rescues, congressional standoffs over the budget and bond purchases known as quantitative easing by the US Federal Reserve.

“Policy has to be on the list of factors to criticize for poor performance,” he said.

Summers rejected that analysis, drawing an analogy with a doctor who prescribes medicine at times of illness. Taking extraordinary action was often worthwhile even if it departed from past practice, he said.

In turn, Taylor questioned Summers’ suggestion that the economy could be mired in secular stagnation in which the Fed cannot cut interest rates low enough to deliver full employment without risking financial instability.

The US is faring better than most other industrial nations in having recovered its pre-crisis level of per capita output, said Kenneth Rogoff, also of Harvard and a former chief economist at the IMF.

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