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What constitutes a liquidity trap?

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This question pertains to topics in Macroeconomics, such as Monetary Economics, Interest Rates and Inflation.


A liquidity trap is a situation in which short-term interest rates are so low, nearly zero, that they can't be lowered further to stimulate the economy. In such a scenario, holding cash becomes preferable to investors than investing in other assets, because the nominal returns on bonds and other securities are close to zero, and the real returns might even be negative if there's any inflation.

Detailed Explanation:

In a liquidity trap, monetary policy becomes ineffective to stimulate the economy as the usual mechanism of lowering interest rates to encourage borrowing and investment fails to work. This happens because people expect rates to rise in the future, which would lower the price of bonds and other fixed interest securities, and hence prefer holding cash.

In addition, a liquidity trap might also occur when consumers choose to save any extra money instead of spend it, a phenomenon known as the paradox of thrift. This behaviour can exacerbate a recession as aggregate demand falls, leading to a drop in economic output and possibly deflation.


Japan has been experiencing a liquidity trap since the 1990s. Despite near-zero interest rates, the Bank of Japan has struggled to stimulate economic growth and inflation due to high savings rates and demographic factors.

During the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-2009, many central banks around the world, including the Bank of England, reduced their interest rates to nearly zero to mitigate the economic downturn. However, these efforts had limited impact, suggesting a liquidity trap scenario.


To summarise, a liquidity trap is a macroeconomic situation where traditional monetary policy tools, such as lowering interest rates, become ineffective due to near-zero or negative real interest rates. In such scenarios, people prefer to hold cash rather than invest, and monetary policy may need to be supplemented by fiscal policy measures, such as government spending, to stimulate the economy.

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