The poor are teaching the rich a lesson. It used to be that the world’s less developed nations were the problem children — giving plutocrats too much power while running irresponsibly large budget deficits and failing to overcome deep internal imbalances. Now, rich countries look like the new poor.
Start with trade. China and middle income commodity exporters have most of the biggest trade surpluses while the world’s richest large economy, the United States, still runs the biggest deficit. With surpluses come financial clout and funds for investment. Deficits lead to dependency and, eventually, industrial weakness.
Fiscal deficits are too high everywhere, but after the financial crisis of 2008 the rich are in far worse shape than the poor. Deficits in developed economies like America and Britain have jumped by 7.7 percent of GDP, close to twice the 4.2 percent rise in middle-income countries, according to the International Monetary Fund.
And rich-country governments are finding it hard to summon the political will to reduce those outsized deficits. Leaders know they have a problem but can’t bring their people — and sometimes their political allies — along with them. Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy are among them. That’s a big contrast to the strong and popular governments in countries such as Brazil.
Finally, rich countries seem unable to agree what they stand for. America’s culture wars define its politics. There are sharp disputes about the future of the European Union and the euro. Japan is forever searching for its role in the world. Poor countries have their fights, but much less doubt in their overarching goal of getting richer.