Opinion

The Great Debate

“Act and learn” versus “debate and wait”

By Mohamed El-Erian and Michael Spence
The opinions expressed are their own.

In formulating policy, the process and the mindset can have a significant impact on the success or failure of outcomes. How you do it can be as or more important than what you do.

In today’s western economies, this observation may go a long way in explaining why policy outcomes have consistently fallen short of what policymakers themselves have expected, let alone what is needed to address important and growing economic challenges.

Signs of disappointing policy outcomes are, unfortunately, all around us. Over the last two years, American policymakers have failed miserably to lower persistently high unemployment despite a series of stimulus measures, fiscal and monetary, conventional and unconventional. In Europe, the debt crisis has spread despite numerous summits, declarations, policy actions and political changes.

In both cases, policymakers identified and sometimes mis-identified the problems and took highly publicized steps to solve them. Considerable financial resources and political capital were deployed. The credibility of policymakers (and policymaking itself) was placed on the line. Yet to no avail. The identified problems not only persisted, they deepened.
When one compares policymaking episodes around the world – successful and less so – it seems clear that there is more at play than the content of policies. The mindset of policymakers and the process of policymaking seem to also have a lot to do with the disappointing outcomes. Indeed, one often hears policymakers point to political dysfunctionality as being the major hindrance to good outcomes.

In the US, it is the highly polarized nature of the political discourse and the associated lack of a “center.” In Europe, it is the need to get universal approval from the seventeen members of the Eurozone in what is often a cumbersome process that pits European necessities and realities against national interests and individual political party posturing.
As valid as the political constraints may be, we believe that there is something even more fundamental at play. It is not just about politics. In the last few years, the policy mindset has been unhelpful and, as a result, the sequencing outmoded.

The great global rebalancing and its implications

Manoj Pradhan

Alan M. TaylorManoj Pradhan, left, a global EM economist, is an executive director at Morgan Stanley. Alan M. Taylor, right, a senior advisor at Morgan Stanley, is a professor of economics at the University of California, Davis. The opinions expressed are their own.

Policymakers have fretted about global imbalances for nearly a decade, but little consensus or clarity has emerged. Some saw problems created by surplus countries, others deficit countries. Many feared a fiscal-cum-balance of payments crisis in the U.S., but the crisis we got reflected private/financial failures. G20 proposals for collective action remain a work in progress. Uncoordinated policy actions triggered talk of currency wars.

As these debates drone on, there may be less cause for concern about global imbalances. Emerging market-developed market (EM-DM) relationships may revert to a more typical historical pattern. We highlight key areas of global adjustment in this scenario: shifts in capital flows, exchange rates and real interest rates.

Fed is banking on phony wealth effect

The Federal Reserve is committed to enticing Americans into doing once again what worked out so badly in the last decade: spending the phony paper gains engineered by overly loose monetary policy.

That, at least, is the very strong impression given by a speech by Brian Sack, the markets chief of the New York Federal Reserve, a man whose job it will be to implement the second round of large-scale quantitative easing coming after the elections in November.

A round of speeches from key Fed officials has given the clear view that, faced with deteriorating conditions and trapped by the lower bound of zero in its monetary policy, the Fed is preparing to once again buy up large amounts of Treasuries, perhaps even more than the government is issuing on an ongoing basis, in an attempt to drive down market interest rates and stimulate the economy.

Looking for Keynes’ angels

Keynesian stimulus works perfectly, but only if you can find politicians who don’t care about re-election and central bankers who aren’t interested in being liked.

The Obama administration, confronted with staggeringly high unemployment and a struggling economy, has proposed another round of, well, stimulus, this time in the form of tax cuts and investment incentives, but such is the toxicity of the word in current debate they can barely bring themselves to utter the “S” word.

As envisioned by economist John Maynard Keynes, in order to successfully run an economy based on counter-cyclical spending during downturns, you need to also have a policy of counter-cyclical savings during fat times. Budget surpluses must be built up so that they can be run down during recessions

Market should prepare for autumn rate “exit”

Could the first increases in  short-term U.S. interest rates come much earlier than most forecasters expect, perhaps as soon as September or November 2010?

Past experience suggests rates begin to rise about 30-35  months after the trough in the manufacturing cycle (as measured by capacity utilisation rates).

In the last four expansions, before this one, rates started rising 27 months, 48 months, 33 months and 31 months after  capacity utilization had hit its low point.

There’s no way to hedge politics

Ben Bernanke in peril and the Volcker crackdown on proprietary trading by banks show two truths of the current dispensation: there is no effective hedge against politics and the reflation trade rests on fragile foundations.

Neither of these realities is particularly good for financial markets and neither is going away any time soon.

Both, too, are utterly related not just to each other, but to the Senate election in Massachusetts which installed a Republican into what had been a Kennedy seat, in the process terrifying Democrats who fear they will be sunk by association with a set of policies perceived to be favoring Wall Street.

Obama bank plan is good policy, good politics

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

President Barack Obama’s proposed curbs on bank size and proprietary risk-taking will be criticised for being vague, hard to implement, and focusing on issues that were only part of the cause of the recent crisis.

But the president should ignore self-interested counsels of perfection from the industry that aim to preserve the status quo. The plan is good politics, and good policy.
On the political front, the plan is a belated attempt to reposition the administration and congressional Democrats. It aims to channel the popular revolt that washed away Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia last autumn and now in Massachusetts.

from India Insight:

U.S. on Israel — double standards or a double-edged sword?

December 24 - Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip ratchet up rocket fire towards Israel after Hamas ended a six-month ceasefire.

December 27 - Israel launches air strikes on Gaza in response killing more than 200 people in Gaza, the highest one-day death toll in 60 years of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

December 27 - The United States blames Hamas for breaking the ceasefire and provoking Israeli air strikes.

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