Finance Ministry to Announce Much-Anticipated Release Date for Next Economic Recession

Money Matters

Finance Ministry to Announce Much-Anticipated Release Date for Next Economic Recession

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

V

ariety, they say, is the spice of life – but predictability is the staple diet we all feast on. Much of the world finds solace in some form of routine. There’s an Olympics every four years, a new iPhone release every six to eight months, and once a quarter Rahul Gandhi says or does something so monstrously silly that for a brief moment, the whole nation is united even without a 600-foot statue.

For this reason, recessions are prickly beasts. A recession is like the next season of Game of Thrones. We don’t quite know when it’s coming, but when it does come, there’s going to be a lot of blood and gore and some key players are going down. In fact, studies might show that we have lost roughly one investment bank for every Stark killed. I kid, of course. If anything, investment banks are more like Jon Snow, considering so many have been brought back to life by government bailouts.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you know two things for sure. First, even if you don’t want to admit it, you know who made Priyanka Chopra’s wedding dress. And second, there is an impending feeling of gloom regarding the coming of the next recession.

The basis for this squeamish foreboding lies in a number of factors. Chief among them is that it’s been a while since the last one so maybe the next one should just hurry up and get here. In some sense, it’s starting to feel less like a full-blown crash and more like watching the white walkers take seven years to reach the wall. The recent resignation of the RBI governor has only added fuel to this wildfire. One wonders whether we might look back on this as the inflexion point for when it all went south.

In some sense, it’s starting to feel less like a full-blown crash and more like watching the white walkers take seven years to reach the wall.

Regardless of the exact timing, since 2008, the world has somehow stumbled along, avoiding one pitfall after another. Now we just feel our luck might be about to run out.

Take Europe for example. It’s rather obvious that their economies have only been held afloat by Germany and France. In 2012, when Greece threatened to pull out of the Euro, it nearly brought everything crashing down. But everyone kissed and made up (this is Europe, so maybe that was not purely figurative) and the inevitable was pushed forward a few years.

Then in 2016, there was Brexit. Again, things looked like they might cascade. But just when we thought we were ready to jump off the deep end, Donald Trump happened. The sheer distraction of the world’s largest superpower electing a man with a fidget spinner for a brain and Fanta for blood put everything else on hold. Brexit went from blunder of the year to whimsical British error in judgement. Against Trump’s tomfoolery and challenging nuclear superpowers and excusing Saudi excesses, Brexit has been allowed to play out in the background like an episode of Fawlty Towers.

In so many ways Trump’s sheer stupidity and unpredictability have kept the next recession at bay.

When you think about it, every recession has been preceded by a sustained build-up of economic euphoria. #FOMO sets in as companies scramble to make the most of unrealistic valuations and a bubble starts to form. It usually takes some catastrophic explosion for reality to filter in and panic to take over. Think the sub-prime lending crisis in 2008… or the launch of Harman Baweja’s acting career, also 2008. Both the 2000 Dotcom bust, and the 2008 recession played out in this manner. Ubiquitous is the banker that haplessly exclaims: “Were it not for Harman, I’d be retired in the Bahamas by now!”

In so many ways Trump’s sheer stupidity and unpredictability have kept the next recession at bay.

By keeping us (and quite possibly, himself) guessing what he’ll do next, Trump has made a habit of setting off small- and medium-sized explosions every few weeks, so that the euphoric momentum hasn’t had a chance to build up. But before we get excited that there might actually be some good to Trump, we need to address the other orange elephant in the room. The US national debt is getting out of hand, thanks among other things, to Trump’s generous tax plan. The US government owes so much money that Vijay Mallya probably has a poster of the US national debt on his wall for motivation. Trump has himself admitted he does not really care about the debt, because by the time it all implodes, he won’t even be around.

Between the mounting US debt, Europe’s procrastination, Brexit, and a trade war with China, the cards do seem to be stacking up for one big collapse.

Back at home, with an election looming, there is every chance the government will look to pump more liquidity into the market. The recent setback in state elections will only spur them further to up spending and ease banking regulations so credit is more accessible. If you’re wondering why the number of calls for “unsecured loans” have suddenly spiked, there’s your clue. The best part about the 2008 recession was that for two glorious years, no one called me asking if I wanted an unsecured loan. It got lonely after a while, but overall, it was a good thing, because friendships made over unsolicited calls rarely end well. They act as if they really like you, but call them in the middle of the night to discuss your fears and insecurities and suddenly it’s all “Sir, let’s be professional” and “Wait, how do you know my mother’s maiden name?”

Of late, the frequency of these calls has picked up again. This is worrying both because it points to macroeconomic over-exuberance and also as I’m in a place in my life right now where I really need a new friend. But mainly it’s the macro issue. The idea that banks are so eager to lend easy money – especially when the banking system is already shakier than a Shakira dance number – should concern us.

Recessions are like black swans. They’re rare, come out of nowhere, and people frown upon you when you say they look delicious. The fact that we’re expecting one is perhaps one reason we should feel safe that it may not happen any time soon. But there’s enough ammo built up that even if we don’t see an explosion, we may be in for a long, slow, painful, white-walker-type burn.

PS: Jaikumar from PNB: If you’re reading this, please call. Can we be friends again? I need a loan and have no security. From what I hear, this is exactly how PNB likes it… what?… too soon?

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