From The Economist, February 12th, 2009

Though once America’s most famous economist, Fisher is now almost forgotten by the public. If he is remembered, it is usually for perhaps the worst stockmarket call in history. In October 1929 he declared that stocks had reached a “permanently high plateau”. Today it is John Maynard Keynes, his British contemporary, who is cited, debated and followed. Yet Fisher laid the foundation for much of modern monetary economics; Keynes called Fisher the “great-grandparent” of his own theories on how monetary forces influenced the real economy. (They first met in London in 1912 and reportedly got along well.)

As parallels to the 1930s multiply, Fisher is relevant again. As it was then, the United States is now awash in debt. No matter that it is mostly “inside” or “internal” debt—owed by Americans to other Americans. As the underlying collateral declines in value and incomes shrink, the real burden of debt rises. Debts go bad, weakening banks, forcing asset sales and driving prices down further. Fisher showed how such a spiral could turn mere busts into depressions. In 1933 he wrote:

Over investment and over speculation are often important; but they would have far less serious results were they not conducted with borrowed money. The very effort of individuals to lessen their burden of debts increases it, because of the mass effect of the stampede to liquidate…the more debtors pay, the more they owe. The more the economic boat tips, the more it tends to tip.

Link to Full Article by The Economist