Sunday, February 8, 2009
Methinks the D-word is becoming PC
February 6, 2009 6:23 PM PST
Posted by Declan McCullagh
Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer sketched a dire portrait of the world economy on Friday, likening it to market conditions in 1837, 1873, and 1929, each of which involved bank failures, high unemployment, and a depression.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis," Ballmer told a retreat of House Democrats in Williamsburg, Va. "There is a lot of history around that, and frankly if you stop and think about it, 1837, '73, '29, 2008, it's almost exactly a whole lifetime between each of the major economic difficulties that we face."
Ballmer said that economic growth in the last 25 years was fueled by innovation, globalization, and debt--and that the current levels of debt were unsustainable. "In 1929, for example, just before the stock market crash, the private debt-to-GDP ratio was 160 percent," he said. "Last year, private sector debt as a percentage of the GDP: 300 percent, far more leverage."
His warning of a protracted downturn that could become a depression comes amid a stock market that is down by more than 40 percent from its October 2007 peak, and housing prices in many metro areas that have been falling consistently since July 2006--a feat not equalled since the Great Depression.
"In my view, what we now have will be a fundamental economic reset," he said. "The economy is going to have to re-establish itself at a level of spending that reflects the real value of underlying assets before we can all start growing again at a healthy rate."