In the fast-moving world of global crisis, yesterday's heresy is today's orthodoxy. Back in August there were demands that Alistair Darling be sacked when he said that economic conditions were "arguably the worst they have been in 60 years".
Six months on, not only is the chancellor still in his job but his predictions now seem relatively upbeat.
Sixty years? Make that a round century, according to Ed Balls. "The reality is this is becoming the most serious global recession, I am sure, for over 100 years as it will turn out," he is said to have told the Yorkshire Labour party.
New Labour is awash with people whose grasp of economics is somewhat hazy, but Balls is not one of them. He was Gordon Brown's right-hand man as chief economic adviser to the Treasury and, had Darling been given the push last summer, Balls would have been the favourite to succeed him.
So, when Balls says the global economy is facing potentially its worst crisis in 100 years, he must be taken seriously. And if he is right (and has been reported accurately), it means that this downturn has a lot further to go.
Why? Because there have been some absolutely shocking downturns since 1909. By far the worst was the 1930s Great Depression, which began with the Wall Street crash of 1929 and only finally ended with the onset of the second world war. In the United States, industrial production fell by 50% and the economy shrank by 25% between 1929 and 1932, with a brief recovery in the mid-1930s reversed by a renewed recession in 1937.
In Germany, hyper-inflation in 1923 was followed within a decade by an increase in unemployment to 6 million.
Britain, by contrast, had it less bad than most in the 30s, but only because its economy underperformed the rest of the world so badly in the 1920s. On some estimates, output fell 25% from 1918 to 1921.
What is different about this crisis is its global reach. Not even the Great Depression was as all-encompassing as this retrenchment has proved to be. Soviet Russia, for example, was shut off from the rest of the world. Large parts of what is now known as the developing world, in Asia and Africa, were also relatively unscathed. Ironically, the spread of the market to all four corners of the globe in the past 20 years has meant the first synchronised world recession.
To that extent, Balls is right. Where he is wrong (or, more accurately, still to be proved right) is in the depth and duration of the downturn, which so far is not as bad as the three big recessions since the second world war, and not even in the same class as the Great Depression.
It took nine months to a year for the shock waves from the financial seizure of August 2007 to feed through into real economic activity. That has meant some countries, including Britain, have so far had only two quarters of falling output.
The official view of the Treasury and of the Bank of England is that the shot in the arm to growth provided by the lowest bank rate in history (1%), tax cuts, higher public spending, cheaper oil prices, and falling inflation will lead to a deep V-shaped recession. Darling believes that the economy may start to show signs of life later this year.
Were that to happen, it would suggest that the recession of 2008-09 would be similar to the downturn of the early 1990s but not as bad as the big post-war slumps of 1974-5 and 1980-81 - the only occasions in the past 60 years when there has been two consecutive years of falling output.
The recession in Margaret Thatcher's first term was the deepest in the post-war era, reducing Britain's factory base by a sixth and putting unemployment on course to top 3 million.
The last time the UK economy went into reverse was when activity fell sharply and suddenly in the autumn of 1990 and continued to fall throughout 1991. By early 1992, however, growth started to pick up, a process accelerated by the big fall in interest rates that followed Britain's departure from the Exchange Rate Mechanism on Black Wednesday.
For the Conservatives, Balls' remarks are a gift. David Cameron and George Osborne can hardly be accused of running down the economy when the prime minister's best buddy says we are facing something worse than the 1930s. Even worse, by adding to the already gloomy mood, his words run the risk of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017