By Pierre Briançon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
MOSCOW – What a difference a plunging ruble makes. A few short days ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin was a strategic genius, outplaying Western leaders everywhere – in the Middle East, in China, and especially in Ukraine. Today, he’s the destroyer of his country and his political life could be in jeopardy.
The “day of silence” observed this week by the Ukrainian army and its pro-Russian rebel opponents was an event of enormous economic importance for global economics as well as geopolitics.
Is the good life possible without economic growth?
Merely raising the question challenges the conventional contemporary wisdom that a society’s prime goal should be to boost its income continually. But it is one that the West, especially Western Europe, may have to confront. Europe is not just suffering the after-effects of a nasty cyclical downturn, it has probably entered an era of low growth.
The Great Divergence is a term coined by economic historians to explain the sudden acceleration of growth and technology in Europe from the 16th century onward, while other civilizations such as China, India, Japan and Persia remained in their pre-modern state. This phrase has recently acquired a very different meaning, however, more relevant to global economic and financial conditions today.
Perhaps it’s time for a re-think of “Death of a Salesman.” After two decades of talk about the “new economy” and the “disruption” of certain professions by the Internet, you might think that sales as we know it is as stale and outdated as Willy Loman — a function that has been “disintermediated” by the digital revolution.
Now that the Federal Reserve has brought its program of quantitative easing to a successful conclusion, while the French and German governments have ended their shadow-boxing over European budget “rules,” macroeconomic policy all over the world is entering a period of unusual stability and predictability. Rightly or wrongly, the main advanced economies have reached a settled view on their economic policy choices and are very unlikely to change these in the year or two ahead, whether they succeed or fail. It therefore seems appropriate to consider what we can learn from all the policy experiments conducted around the world since the 2008 crisis.
Today, the International Monetary Fund announced yet another a reduction in its global growth projections for 2014, with its estimate of U.S. growth also reduced (citing reduced government spending, but not the present U.S. government shutdown — or the heretofore unthinkable notion of the U.S. government defaulting on its obligations). Despite the seeming urgency of global economic slowdown, when world leaders attended their annual fall confabulation at the United Nations in New York last month, they focused on the diplomacy of physical security (Syria, Iran, etc.). Thus another year has passed in which global economic security issues were on no one’s reported agenda.