Nouriel Roubini is #12 on on Foreign Policy’s list of the 100 Top Global Thinkers of 2010. Over the past few years, the economist at New York University says he’s been thinking most about why financial crises occur and whey they are occurring more frequently than we have expected.
Contrary to the conventional notion that crises are random and infrequent events, Roubini has been arguing for the better part of a decade that financial crises can be predicted based on macroeconomic and policy mistakes. In fact, they occur every few years in some country around the world, he says. Roubini characterizes these financial crises as a “white swan” event. He emphasizes their regularity in his recent book Crisis Economics. Roubini says the pattern of crises is always the same: initially there is an economic boom, which drives up asset prices, leading to an excessive build-up of debt and leverage, which eventually leads to a downturn and then a market crash and bust.
The co-founder of Roubini Global Economics, Roubini credits his 20 years of experience studying financial crises in emerging markets — he published a book about their causes and consequences in 2004 — for enabling him to spot the risks for a crash. He also notes that others who foresaw the crisis, such as Morgan Stanley Asia’s Steve Roach and then-Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg, share a global view of economic dynamics, intellectual courage and a certain outsider status, a characteristic that fellow FP Global Thinker Mohamed El-Erian said was vital for his own success.
Looking ahead, Roubini worries about the balance of power in a world in which the U.S. is no longer a superpower. Global governance has shifted to the G-20 from the G-7, which was really a G-1, with the United States playing the role of the global hegemon and provider of global public goods. As America’s power declines, there is no country stepping in to be the world’s leader. Instead, emerging powers like China, Brazil, and India are all free-riding on America’s contributions to international order. Roubini fears that the world will go from a G-20 to a “G-0″, where there will be political and economic disorder.
Foreign Policy says Roubini deserves his high rank on the list “for seeing the roots of the next crisis in the current one”: