Opinion

The Great Debate

Get ready for the “Great Immoderation”

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

The recession will soon be dead, laid to rest alongside the idea of the “Great Moderation”, a set of hopeful assumptions that underpins expectations about economic growth and asset valuations.

This, when investors, bankers and executives ultimately realise it will cause them to pull in their horns, take less risks and be less willing to pay high prices for assets.

Economists, observing that since the 1980s recessions have been mild and short and expansions long and robust, developed the theory that better economic management, namely cutting rates in the aftermath of bubbles, globalisation and, get this, improvements in financial markets, had led to a sort of best-of-all-possible-worlds “Great Moderation”, in which economic volatility fell and with it the risk premia required for holding financial assets.

This little theory has, needless to say, come somewhat unstuck during the current downturn which has been great but far from moderate.

A chink of light for the euro zone

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

Even without a huge fiscal boost or a hell-for-leather central bank, Europe could have a recovery, albeit a tepid one, on the cards by the end of the year.

Recent forward looking economic data is still grim, but hides within it the seeds of a rebound, as the absolutely brutal fall in manufacturing over the past six months burns itself out.

Africa and the global economic crisis

- Jorge Maia is head of Research and Information for Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, established in 1940 to promote economic growth and industrial development. The opinions expressed are his own –

Serious shockwaves are hitting Africa’s shores as the global economic crisis unfolds.

The extent and depth of the damage is extremely difficult to assess or project, but it is clear that the pattern of financial flows associated with investment, lending and trading activity has been dramatically altered, with detrimental economic and social implications for the continent at large. The adverse impact has been gradually spreading from a regional perspective – a serious setback to Africa’s recent growth performance, which had averaged 6 percent a year from 2003 to 2008.

An equal opportunity recession?

Jim CarrJames H. Carr is chief operating officer for the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Washington-based association that promote access to basic banking services for America’s working families. He is a member of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s “Experts of Color Clearinghouse”. The views expressed are his own.

The U.S. economy is unraveling at a pace not seen in decades. The more than 650,000 jobs lost last month has contributed to a growing concern that the unemployment rate could rise to 10 percent or higher before the economy rebounds. At the center of the economy’s instability is a foreclosure crisis that has claimed 3.5 million homes in the last year alone, and threatens the loss of an additional 8 to 10 million homes to foreclosure over the next five years.

The loss of wealth associated with the collapse of the housing market is staggering. More than $5 trillion in housing equity has virtually evaporated since the foreclosure crisis began. Major stock indexes have also been cut in half, further contributing to decreased consumer confidence, substantially reduced spending, lower productivity, rising unemployment and additional foreclosures.

Building a three-legged stool

lawrence Lawrence Bloom is deputy chairman of Noble Cities and chairman of the World Economic Forum, Global Agenda Council on Urban Management. His views are his own –

The chaos generated by the meltdown of the global economic system provides environmentalists and human rights advocates with utopian opportunities to promote a new economic model, which will not only help sustain life on our planet, but actually increase its quality for many.
As world leaders search for creative solutions to restore global equilibrium, the opportunity for recognising the importance of both human and environmental capital has perhaps never been so possible or achievable.
Recognising all three types of capital: financial, environmental and human, will help us to build the equivalent of a balanced three-legged stool . Hopefully, this stool will be more stable than the current one-legged model of financial capital.
Last week the United Nations Environment Program recommended the business world use the global downturn to press ahead with green technologies that will save firms money and help save the planet. It also recommended using micro-finance loans to help developing countries provide sustainable solutions in such places as Bangladesh where small loans have allowed women entrepreneurs to install solar panels and bring electricity to 100,000 homes.
Society has been operating on the belief that if the engines of capitalism are powered to churn constantly, wealth will prevail and all of human society will benefit. But this system has served to create great income disparities by generating incredible wealth and incredible poverty, and has been the main driver in causing catastrophic environmental damage.
The unregulated, trickle-down financial policy is necessary to generate positive GDP figures, but traditionally these data do not include the cost of rainforest or biodiversity loss. Thanks to the United Nations Green Economy Initiative, and the work being undertaken by Pavan Sukhdev and his colleagues who are engaged in the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project, we can now put GDP-like values on these losses.
As a result, we are beginning to recognise that the credit crunch in the financial markets is a minnow in comparison to the credit crunch in our environment and biodiversity systems. It appears that we have been “borrowing” $2.5 trillion every year for the last 25 years without any significant compensating payback.
Over time, we may acquire the wisdom to realise that what traditional economics considers “externalities”, as if they were irrelevant, are closer to our survival needs than the creation of economic wealth. The 90 pence we pay for a litre of petrol is divided between government tax and profit for the oil company, but who picks up the tab for the damage that is done by burning the fuel in the atmosphere? We privatise profit and we socialise loss.
We need to start valuing people first, and then we will collectively begin to operate on the principle that the environment is not just another word for commodity market, but that it supports life. Valuing human capital means acknowledging that each person on this planet is entitled to fresh water, nutritious food, proper shelter, healthcare, education, justice and access to capital. This way we can release the creative potential of all of humanity. Only when we are clear on these values can we create a financial system that serves it.
The current financial credit drivers are akin to the booster rockets on a space craft. In the same way as the boosters blast the craft free of the Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull, so the current financial system has created wealth, education and freedom for 1.5 billion people. But for many – the remaining 4.5 billion – the cost has been very great and to our ecosystems it has been disastrous. The skill in a space shot is knowing when to blow the explosive bolts, releasing the boosters and continuing the mission with the second stage only. Our skill will be in jettisoning our current economic model and designing a new and more inclusive “second stage”.
What we should be talking about now at a strategic level is urgently restructuring our monetary system into a non-debt, or minimal-based debt structure using Sharia-type finance and complementary currencies with government spending money directly into circulation.
In whichever way we choose as a society to tackle the global financial crisis, we must create a system that protects and nurtures all of humanity and the environment before it is too late.
An inspirational quote attributed to a North American First Nations Chief Seattle states: “We are all connected like the blood that unites one family. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth. Man did not create the web of life, but he is part of it, whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
These words written more than one hundred years ago speak directly to us today. Will we have the intelligence to listen?

From financial crisis to sustainable global economy

staff_jlash_121- Jonathan Lash is president of the World Resources Institute. The views expressed are his own -

Much of the world’s attention is fixed on the brutal effects of the global financial crisis.
But sooner or later – sooner we hope – the global economy will rebound. Markets will recover, and stocks will rise. Nature, on the other hand, does not do bailouts. The effects of today’s greenhouse gas emissions – like those of yesterday and tomorrow – will be permanent, at least in the timescales that we care about.

They are what will shape the lives and markets of tomorrow.

My view of sustainability is very simple: what can’t be sustained won’t be. It was impossible for real estate values to continue to rise much faster than economic growth. It had to end sometime . . . and it did. When the bubble burst, the consequences were severe.

Less social dialogue and more social change

stern_official_5x5a- Andy Stern is the president of the Service Employees International Union. His views are his own -

We are living through the third economic revolution. The first was the agricultural revolution, and it took nearly 3,000 years. The second was the industrial revolution, which took about 300 years. This revolution is going to take 30 years. As we move from an industrial economy based in factories to a knowledge and finance economy that lives on the Internet, no generation of people has ever witnessed so much change in a single lifetime.

And this revolution is televised, it’s Googlized, it’s digitized, it’s in your face, on your screen, 24/7. It is relentless and it’s unending and it’s far from over.

A stimulating energy policy

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- Robert Engle is the Michael Armellino Professor of Finance at New York University Stern School of Business and a Nobel Laureate. His views are his own. -

We have faced energy crises before. The last energy crisis was about running out of oil. This one is about the fear that we might not. The future health of our planet is jeopardized by the greenhouse gases emitted by our industrial society. But can we afford an expensive energy policy in this time of economic distress?

The simplest and best solution to reducing emissions is thought by most economists to be a comprehensive tax on the emission of greenhouse gases. Only in this way will individuals and businesses that avoid the tax be doing what is socially desirable. Only in this way will it become profitable to find substitute energy sources; no longer would it be necessary to subsidize alternatives. The price of oil will rise naturally when we begin to run out, but in this proposal, the price would rise before we reach the bitter end. It is only a matter of timing.

Do tough times draw TV-viewers to Web?

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

In the first global recession of the Internet Age, budget-conscious consumers are showing they no longer have an endless appetite for every new gadget or media service.

Many users are looking to eliminate overlapping services that offer more of the same old formula entertainment in a different package or on another device.

from Ask...:

Out with the old year, in with the new

Despite the incessant drumbeat of poor economic data -- consumer confidence fell to a record low in December and the price of single-family homes plunged in October -- the majority of Americans are optimistic about what is in store in 2009.

The Marist College canvassed 1,003 Americans about their expectations for 2009 on December 9 and 10 -- days after the National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed the United States had been mired in a recession since December 2007.

Expectations for a brighter future were higher among younger generations with 64 percent of those under 45 having an optimistic view compared with 52 percent for those 45 or older.

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