Nineteen eighty-seven was a year of financial paradox. During the 1980s there was the strong perception that the Americans, the Europeans, and the Japanese were living well, contrasting with the accounting data that suggested the house of cards was about to fall. Three factors dominated the financial economy of 1987: the 25-percent drop in equity prices in mid-October, the apparent collapse of the U.S. dollar in the foreign exchange market, and the formal recognition by the major international banks that their losses on developing country loans would amount to at least $250 billion. The key question at the end of that year was whether the world economy was moving into a period of inflation or deflation. This essay identifies three possible scenarios. First, the decline in the foreign-exchange value of the U.S. dollar would lead to a rapid increase in U.S. net exports, an excessively large increase in demand for U.S. goods, and a run on the U.S. dollar, which would prompt more contractive monetary policies from the Federal Reserve and an increase in interest rates on U.S. dollars. Second, an increase in U.S. net exports would offset the decline in domestic spending from the smaller fiscal deficit and the less rapid growth of consumer spending. Interest rates on U.S. dollar assets would fall, which in turn would facilitate the expansion of income, and the U.S. fiscal deficit would automatically decline. Or, third, a second stock market meltdown might cause consumer and investment spending to decline more than the increase in net exports, resulting in a recession and a decline in the inflation rate and interest rates.
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