Opinion

The Great Debate

Stubborn national politics drag down the global economy

Four years ago world leaders, meeting in the G20 crisis session, agreed they would all work to move from recession to growth and prosperity.  They agreed to a global growth compact to be delivered by combining national growth targets with coordinated global interventions. It didn’t happen. After the $1 trillion stimulus of 2009, fiscal consolidation became the established order of the day, and so year after year millions have continued to endure unemployment and lower living standards.

Only now are there signs that the long-overdue shift in national macro-economic policies may be taking place. The new Japanese government is backing up a “minimum inflation target” with a multi-billion-dollar stimulus designed to create 600,000 jobs. In what some call the “reverse Volcker moment,” Ben Bernanke has become the first head of a central bank for decades to announce he will target a 6 percent level of unemployment alongside his inflation objective. And the new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has told us that “when policy rates are stuck at the zero lower bound, there could not be a more favorable case for Nominal GDP targeting.” Side by side with this shift in policy, in every area but the Euro, there is also policy progress in China. It may look from the outside as if November’s Communist Party Congress simply re-announced their all-too-familiar but undelivered wish to re-balance the economy from exports to domestic consumption, but this time the promise has been accompanied by a time-specific commitment: to double average domestic income per head by 2020.

The intellectual case for change is obvious. A chronic shortage of demand has developed for two reasons. First, as the IMF announced at the end of 2012, the adverse impact of fiscal consolidation on employment and demand has been greater than many people expected. Secondly, the effectiveness of quantitative easing has almost certainly started to wane. As former BBC chief Gavyn Davies has put it, “the supply potential of the economy is in danger of becoming dependent on, or ‘endogenous to,’ the weakness of domestic demand. …With demand constrained in this way for such a lengthy period of time, supply potential is beginning to downsize to fit the low level of demand.” It is a new equilibrium that can be reversed only by boosting demand.

But why is there so little optimism when the paradigm shift sought in 2009 is finally starting to materialize? Why do experts continue to downgrade their forecasts for 2013 and even 2014, while discussion so often drifts toward talk of a lost decade? It is, I suggest, because while countries are today adopting national growth strategies, they have missed out on the other part of the 2009 decision — the necessity of coordinated global intervention. And the big question is whether the momentum for growth can be sustained by national initiatives alone in the absence of global action or will instead melt away once again under the pressure of narrow, self-defeating national policies.

There is depressing testimony to stagnation produced by a lack of global demand. Olivier Blanchard, the IMF chief economist, has deployed devastating figures to demonstrate how fiscal consolidation has depressed the Western economy. Jonathan Portes of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research underlines the point: Austerity in one country reduces demand in the next and vice versa. ”The hit to output in Germany is now 2%. In the UK it is 5%; and in Greece 13%,” he wrote. Still more shocking is the impact on debt-to-GDP ratios. As Portes points out, fiscal consolidation was supposed to improve fiscal sustainability; instead, it makes matters worse. “This isn’t true just in extreme cases like Greece – fiscal consolidation across the EU has raised debt-to-GDP ratios in Germany and the UK as well. In both the UK and the euro area as a whole, the result of coordinated fiscal consolidation is a rise in the debt-GDP ratio of approximately five percentage points. For the UK, that means a debt-GDP ratio of close to 75% in 2013 instead of about 70%. We are not running to stand still; we are determinedly heading in the wrong direction.”

The myth of America’s decline

This is an excerpt from “The Reckoning: Debt, Democracy and the Future of American Power,” published this week by Palgrave Macmillan.

For all the doom and gloom about “American decline,” the United States looks nothing like the twilight empires to which it’s often compared. For one thing, in this age of globalization, a far greater swath of the planet – including some surprising nations like China and Saudi Arabia – wish America well, albeit for their own, selfish reasons. Why would either country, in spite of what it may think of American culture or foreign policy, want to upset a status quo upheld, at great expense, by American power that enriches them more each and every year? From the US perspective, this should be an advantage. It creates stakeholders all over the planet that genuinely hope Washington can solve its current fiscal problems. With the exception of the British Empire, which had a relatively benign replacement lined up when it ran out of steam, history offers no other example of a waning empire whose most obvious potential rivals – China, India, the EU, to name but a few – all have good reasons to want to help arrange a long, slow approach to a soft landing.

“I have no objection to the principle of an American Empire,” writes Niall Ferguson, the Oxford historian. “Indeed, a part of my argument is that many parts of the world would benefit from a period of American rule.” Ferguson and others like him recognize the importance of the role the United States has played, a role that “not only underwrites the free exchange of commodities, labor and capital but also creates and upholds the conditions without which markets cannot function – peace and order, the rule of law, non-corrupt administration, stable fiscal and monetary policies – as well as public goods.” Ironically, many would-be topplers of American hegemony no doubt feel the same way.

The Fed must print money to head off a global crash

By Adam Posen
The opinions expressed are his own

It is past time for monetary policy to be doing more to support recovery. The Jackson Hole conference has come and gone, and no shortage of excuses was provided for central banks to hold their fire — even though most economists acknowledged the grim outlook for the advanced economies.

Too much attention has been paid, however, to the failings of fiscal policies and to the shortfall from effects of earlier quantitative easing. Further asset purchases by the G7 central banks are needed to check not just a downturn, but the lasting erosion of productive capacity and of debt sustainability — especially when even justified fiscal and financial consolidation is undercutting short-term recovery. Easier monetary policy will increase the odds of other policies improving, and those policies’ effectiveness when they do.

It is also past time to stop fearing inflationary ghosts. There is no credible threat of sustained higher inflation in the advanced economies that should restrain central bank action. The rate of wage growth is tepid and compatible with price stability, at most, even in Germany; the inability of wages to keep up with recent real price shocks underscores the ongoing downward pressure from labour market slack. Consumption was driven down by fiscal tightening and household retrenchment as much as oil prices, and those forces will be ongoing. Had consumer confidence not been weakly footed to begin with, the oil shock would not have had such an impact.

Today’s markets need noise filters

Agnes Crane – Agnes T. Crane is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are her own –

Reasons people give to explain the quick switch-back movements in stocks and other risky assets are becoming, well, just bizarre.

On Monday, it was the World Bank’s dire outlook for the global economy — no matter that the organization’s president already said output was likely to decline by close to three percent earlier this month.

Two cheers for the walking wounded

ws2– Mark Hannam is a guest columnist, the views expressed are his own. He formerly worked at the Bank of England and Barclays. He is currently chairman of Fair Finance, a microfinance company –

Some banks have come out of the financial crisis in better shape than others. We should encourage them rather than lump them together with the failures.

Public anger at the recent failings of many of our leading banks, while justified, is not a sound basis for future policy. The temptation facing policy makers — that of failing to distinguish between better capitalized, better managed banks and under-capitalized, poorly managed banks — should be avoided.

Not what the economy’s doctor ordered

James Saft Great Debate – James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Besides being a human tragedy, a deadly pandemic is, quite literally, the last thing a global economy suffering a huge drop off in trade and activity needs.

To be very clear, we’ve no idea how severe or widespread the evolving outbreak of a new form of swine flu will be and indications that it seems to be becoming milder as it travels from Mexico are reassuring.

G20: Vows to act but few specifics

g20– Kenichi Kawasaki is managing director and senior analyst at Nomura Securities’ Financial and Economic Research Center. The views expressed are his own –

The G20 leaders failed to come up with any concrete policy steps to pull the global economy out of recession at the London summit. The leaders vowed to restore growth and jobs, but lacked specifics about fiscal measures by each country and there were no binding promises.

There were expectations that the summit would tackle the issue of rising protectionism, but the summit is not an appropriate place to discuss international trade and investment. We saw a measure of results in expanding assistance to emerging economies, but it made the summit look as if it were a mere international conference on aid to emerging economies.

Mobile industry stimulus, strings attached

ericauchard1– Eric Auchard is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Some of the world’s biggest mobile operators say they can stimulate the global economy by luring $550 billion in new investment, but only with the implied trade-off that they retain their monopoly market powers.

AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DoCoMo, Telefonica and Vodafone are among the carriers who have called on national regulators to provide a “minimally intrusive” regulatory environment to encourage new investment.

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