Opinion

The Great Debate

An unstable global economic system that is being ignored

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.

Policy makers continue to fail to appreciate that the most formidable economic challenge today lies in the area outside the borders of any one nation or region — and that multilateral action to address this challenge is arguably more important than efforts at increasingly less-effective internal stimulus.

Present-day economic imbalances — particularly those stemming from the rapid emergence of the post-socialist nations over the past 15 years, with their associated supply of excess labor, productive capacity and global capital, relative to demand — have hamstrung the economies of the advanced nations. Such economic dislocation can no longer be resolved by any one power, or even by two or three. Indeed, there is enormous risk today of unilateral or bilateral actions being viewed by players left out of such actions as economically threatening or even hostile, leading to economic countermeasures. The issue is compounded by the complexity of the relationships among and between developed nations on the one hand and emerging ones on the other. It is hard to imagine moving beyond a global economy that is just getting by, and therefore at material risk of new and deeper crisis, without a more open dialogue among the Group of 20 (G20) nations and proactive steps toward mutual accommodation.

Yet, since the central banks of the developed world have managed to more-or-less stabilize their economies — however tenuously — discussion of a global grand bargain focused on rebalancing international trade and finance has been all but absent. This is unfortunate, as it makes it unlikely that the advanced nations will be able to return to their potential growth trajectories for some time to come.

There is, nevertheless, enormous common interest if nations can find the right way to open a dialogue with one another. Both surplus and debtor nations have so far understood that it is to no one’s benefit to attempt to aggressively advance their singular interests at the expense of their trading partners. We’re all in this together, our interests are intertwined in a flat world, and we’re dealing with more economic interdependence than ever before. And thus far, at least, we have mostly avoided the “beggar thy neighbor” strategies that went awry in previous slumps, either out of wisdom or good fortune of their ineffectiveness. That said, we are a long way from a harmonious, cooperative global trading environment.

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.

A good deal for Greece, its creditors, and Europe

Amid all the doom and gloom about Greece in the last few weeks, it is easy to overlook an important piece of good news: the debt exchange offer published by Greece on Friday with endorsement by its main private and official creditors. If implemented, this would be a major achievement and an important step toward overcoming the euro zone crisis, almost regardless of what happens next.

Under the offer, bondholders would receive 15 percent of the face value of their bonds in the form of short-term European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bonds, plus a set of new Greek sovereign bonds maturing between 2023 and 2042, with a 31.5 percent face value.

This agreement is a very good deal for Greece. The combination of the cut in face values, lower coupons and (in most cases) longer maturity implies a debt reduction of about 60 percent in present value terms (evaluated at a 5 percent discount rate). Assuming high participation (about €200 billion in bonds), this translates into savings of about €120 billion, or 54 percent of Greece’s 2011 GDP. This is very large. By comparison, the Argentine exchange of January 2005, the previous high-water mark, generated present value of debt relief of only about 29 percent of GDP, because although the per-dollar debt reduction was higher, the volume exchanged was much smaller.

from Lawrence Summers:

It’s time for the IMF to step up in Europe

By Lawrence Summers
The opinions expressed are his own.

European leaders will meet today for yet another “historic” summit at which the fate of Europe is said to hang in the balance. Yet it is clear that this will not be the last convened to deal with the financial crisis.

If public previews from France and Germany are a guide, there will be commitments to assuring fiscal discipline in Europe and establishing common crisis resolution mechanisms. There will also be much celebration of commitments made by Italy, and a strong political reaffirmation of the permanence of the monetary union. All of this is necessary and desirable, but the world economy will remain on edge.

Given that Europe is the largest single component of the global economy, the rest of the world has a stake in helping to avoid major financial accidents. It also has a stake in aiding continued growth in Europe and ensuring that the European financial system supports investment around the world – particularly as cross-border European bank lending dwarfs that of banks from any other region.

How Lagarde should be appointed at the IMF

By Mohamed El-Erian
The opinions expressed are his own.

Eager to retain a historical but outmoded entitlement, European politicians seem to be coalescing around Christine Lagarde to replace Dominique Strauss-Kahn as Managing Director of the IMF. Lagarde has the qualifications to successfully lead a multilateral institution that is central to the well being of the global economy. Her ability to do so, however, may critically depend on how she is appointed.

Lagarde has considerable skills and expertise; she has gained important experience in both the private and public sectors; and, judging from her stint as France’s Minister of Finance, she has navigated well the corridors of political power at the national and European levels.

Lagarde would be the first woman to lead a Bretton Woods institution. Such an overdue appointment would send an important message to an IMF demoralized by disturbing allegations of sexual assault by Strauss-Kahn. It would also come at a time when delicate questions are being raised as to whether the institution has historically been tolerant of inappropriate behavior.

DSK saga is not just a French thing

By Maureen Tkacik

Whatever transpired in Suite 2806 of the Midtown Sofitel early Saturday afternoon, it seems clearer with each passing hour that being accused of sexual assault is far from a “Black Swan” event in the life of DSK. In 2007, the journalist Tristane Banon told a TV talk show host he had wrestled her to the ground and torn off her clothes during an interview a few years earlier; the talk show host in turn allowed that he knew “fourteen” separate women with similar tales. DSK’s name was eventually edited out of the broadcast for largely legal reasons, but it surfaced the next year when the IMF was forced to launch an investigation into his affair with a subordinate.

Indeed, on Monday the phrase “Who hasn’t been groped by Dominique Strauss-Kahn?” gained wide currency, even though it was first uttered (albeit in French) years ago by the actress Danièle Evenou.

But for once, there was a perfectly obvious explanation to the vexing mystery of how such a towering public figure might have got away with such prolific predation for so many years — but of course, c’est France vee are talking about! Zee French media do not pry into zee “sex life” of politicians zee vay vee repressed Puritanical Americans feel so compelled to do.

Strauss-Kahn allegations are consequential for the global economy

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The opinions expressed are his own.

This weekend’s detention of the IMF’s chief on allegations of sexual assault has implications that go well beyond the impact on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s (or, as he is commonly known, DSK) international prestige. They could also impact the IMF, France, market uncertainty and the well-being of the global economy.

We must wait to make a full assessment until we know the outcome of ongoing police investigations into allegations that, according to his lawyer, DSK intends to “contest vigorously.” Having said that, some commentators are already taking the view that the IMF could lose its managing director, and that France could lose a leading candidate for next year’s presidential elections.

Should he be forced to step down, DSK would be the third successive head of the IMF to leave suddenly. Once again, this would catch the institution with a selection process for the top position that is still overly dominated by politics, horse-trading between Europe and the US and other outmoded characteristics.

Strauss-Kahn scandal: presidential hopes are all but dead

 

 

By Henri Gibier
The opinions expressed are his own.

PARIS — It took only a few minutes, Saturday afternoon in a hotel in Manhattan, for Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s career to be tainted by scandal. The inquiry into the allegations made against the IMF head has only just begun, but the damage inflicted to his image and reputation has already reached the point of no return. Strauss-Kahn may proclaim his innocence, and his supporters may speak of an international conspiracy – certainly their positions should be given as much attention as that of his accuser – but the damage has already been done. And the damage is obviously considerable.

First of all, the affair deals a heavy blow to the French left. The Socialist Party seemed convinced that Strauss-Kahn’s candidacy for the 2012 presidential election was a done deal, that his eventual campaign may even be unstoppable.

It is true that certain Socialist loyalists continued to harbor doubts about the 62-year-old’s capacity to embody the party’s values, about his free-market stance on the economy as illustrated by his IMF role, about his flamboyant lifestyle, or about his commitment to French political life. But his experience and undeniable skills seemed poised to largely counterbalance any of his alleged weaknesses, and his communication experts were expected to do the rest.

What to expect from the IMF, World Bank meetings

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

The IMF and World Bank meet this week at a delicate moment for the global economic recovery. First, the good news: Expectations for success won’t be tough to manage, because turmoil in the Arab world, the triple disaster in Japan, and Europe’s ongoing struggles have kept the meetings from grabbing much public attention. That’s a good thing, because as capital and liquidity return to the global economy and as emerging market powers begin to assert themselves with greater confidence on the international stage, the IMF and World Bank have lost some of their prominence.

In particular, the IMF is finding it increasingly difficult to play its traditional role of global surveillance body and lender of last resort, because multinational coordination is just not that effective these days. Newly enhanced voting leverage for leading emerging powers intended to better reflect the world’s true balance of power will only add to the institution’s dysfunction, as members increasingly disagree on whether and how to correct global imbalances. Expect to hear more calls from China, India, Brazil and Russia for an end to US and European dominance of these institutions, but don’t expect any “rebalancing” of rights and responsibilities to make international consensus any easier to achieve.

For example, in advance of the meetings, the IMF has produced a framework of policy options for countries now coping with large capital inflows. Several emerging states — including Brazil, South Korea, and Indonesia — have enacted capital controls in recent months. The IMF has endorsed the use of capital controls in cases where measures to strengthen banking systems and lower interest rates have already been adopted — a fundamental reversal of previous IMF policy.

from James Saft:

Icelandic mulishness wins the day

Iceland's remarkable return to growth shows once again that in this crisis the best policy is often the one that will make international partners most angry.

Having been reviled and chastised when it refused to make good the outsize debts of its banks, Iceland this week capped a striking turnaround when it announced that its economy expanded by 1.2 percent in real terms in the most recent quarter, its first such rise in two years.

This is in stark contrast to Ireland, whose pliability and inability as a member of the euro zone to act unilaterally leaves it with a still crashing economy which must service ever more debt by making ever deeper cuts to public spending.

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