Are we just in the early stages of another Great Depression?

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In a provocative Swampland post yesterday, my TIME colleague Michael Scherer argued that the economy is still careening downward:

Forget what the CNBC squawkers tells you. We are not out of the woods yet. Economic measures continue to track remarkably closely with the downturn in 1929, the start of the Great Depression. These charts, by Barry Eichengreen of the University of California at Berkeley and Kevin O’Rourke of Trinity College, Dublin, tell the story.

That’s true, but it is important to note that the story Eichengreen and O’Rourke are trying to tell with their charts is that global industrial production and trade have fallen off just as fast over the past year as they did in the 12 months beginning June 1929, and global stock markets have fallen even faster. They aim to provide a counterpoint to those who look at the U.S. numbers alone and conclude that things aren’t looking nearly as bad as in 1929-1930. In the Great Depression, the U.S. economy was just about the worst hit on the planet. In the Great Recession, the U.S. downturn has been milder—so far—than what several other major economies (Germany, Japan, the UK) have experienced.

My take, as expressed in this week’s column (which should go up online later today) is that the recession really is ending—but that the recovery won’t be much fun at all as we work off our giant debt overhang and eventually have to start paying the price for the extreme measures taken to stave off another Great Depression. The alternate scenario is that all those extreme scenarios will turn out not to have been enough to stave off another Great Depression. Nice choice, huh?

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