Opinion

The Great Debate

G20 should be pragmatic about protectionism

Paul Blustein– Paul Blustein is a journalist-in-residence at the Brookings Institution. He is writing a book on the World Trade Organization, which will be published in September. The views expressed are his own. —

Telling young people to abstain from sex is “not realistic at all” — new mother Bristol Palin, 18.

The wisdom of Ms. Palin should be borne in mind by the leaders of the Group of 20 nations at their April 2 summit when they turn to trade.

The meeting comes at a time when worries about protectionism are mounting, because a number of countries have raised trade barriers and enacted other quasi-protectionist measures.

It is tempting to say, as many commentators have, that the G20 should vow to shun all new acts of protectionism, including any tariff-raising or more subtle actions such as “buy local” provisions in government stimulus programs. Unfortunately, such blanket pledges will be no more credible than teenage abstinence campaigns. The G20 must be ambitious on trade, but it must also be practical. Minimizing long-term damage to the trading system should be the overarching goal.

Drug wars and the balloon effect

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Why have billions of dollars and thousands of anti-narcotics agents around the world failed to throttle the global traffic in cocaine, heroin and marijuana? Blame wrong-headed policies, largely driven by the United States, and what experts call the balloon effect.

Squeezing a balloon in one place makes it expand in another. Destroy drug crops in one region and cultivation moves to another. Cut a supply route in one place and another one springs up. Take the example of Colombia and Mexico, at present a focus of U.S. attention because of large-scale violence that threatens to spill across the border.

Challenges for the G20: The IMF and regulation

StephanyGriffith-Jones– Stephany Griffith-Jones is executive director of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University. The views expressed are her own. –

There are many important challenges facing G20 leaders when they meet in London in early April.

The first is to coordinate sufficiently large fiscal and other measures to ensure that world aggregate demand recovers, and a major recession is avoided.

Liberals and conservatives on healthcare reform

stephen-davidson

– Stephen M. Davidson, a professor at Boston University’s School of Management, is author of “In Urgent Need of Reform: Saving the U.S. Healthcare System,” to be published later this year. The views expressed are his own. –

Stories about healthcare reform often contain opposing statements from liberals and conservatives. Liberals would use government; conservatives, a market in which private insurers would compete for subscribers. Liberals say a big public-sector role is needed to rein in costs and achieve universal coverage; conservatives say that approach would face opposition from most, if not all, Republicans.

Perhaps unwittingly, that kind of juxtaposition creates the impression that there are two equally viable paths to the three main goals of healthcare reform – financial access to care for all; reduction in the rate of increase of healthcare spending; and more reliable quality of care. But the notion that these are two paths to the same end is false. In fact, competition among private insurers will always produce large numbers of uninsured people –- now at 47 million and climbing — and always produce higher spending than necessary. Here’s why.

Transfusions don’t stop the bleeding

lou-lataif

– Louis E. Lataif is dean of the Boston University School of Management and a former Ford executive. The views expressed are his own. —

The federal government now wants to shore up ailing auto suppliers with a $5 billion bailout, despite a rising chorus of criticism against more government bailouts. The public is beginning to see bailouts as “transfusions,” rather than a closing of the wound, and is losing patience with them. The “wound” is falling housing values and toxic mortgage-backed securities which have paralyzed financial markets – not the auto industry.

The hastily approved $787 billion “stimulus package,” including aggressive spending programs unrelated to declining home values or the constricted capital markets, is tantamount to administering repeated, expensive blood transfusions rather than stopping the bleeding. Of course, if the blood flow at the wound eventually coagulates (one day the economy will rebound) then the transfusions can be claimed to have worked. But the delayed cure would have come at a crippling cost to the next generations of taxpayers.

First 100 Days: What not to do in public diplomacy

Kristin Lord– Kristin Lord is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the recent report, “Voices of America: U.S. Public Diplomacy for the 21st Century.” The views expressed are her own. –

As Senate confirmation hearings approach, America’s next public diplomacy leaders will get abundant advice about how to improve America’s standing in the world. The Obama administration’s nominees (an under secretary and at least two assistant secretaries in the State Department alone) would be wise to listen.

Yet, in truth, America’s new public diplomacy team can accomplish much by following that age old maxim: first, do no harm.  Seven key “don’ts” are worth bearing in mind.

The state-sponsored shadow banking system

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

The shadow banking system in Europe isn’t so much dead as being kept on life support by banks and central banks in what amounts to a desperate but risky attempt to avoid the reckoning.

You might be forgiven for thinking that the biggest single month ever for securitization in Europe and Britain was sometime before we all realized that we were in a credit bubble, sometime like the sunny days of 2006.

In American crisis, anger and guns

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

In the first two months of this year, around 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008. It was great news for gun makers and a sign of a dark mood in the country.

Gun sales shot up almost immediately after Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential elections on November 4 and firearm enthusiasts rushed to stores, fearing he would tighten gun controls despite campaign pledges to the contrary.

Time to rethink inflation targeting

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

It is time to add another victim to the ever-growing list of institutions (Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers) and theories (value at risk, fair value accounting and originate to distribute) which have been tested by the financial crisis and found wanting. The central bank practice of inflation targeting — the jewel in the crown of modern monetary economics — has palpably failed.

Over the last two decades, inflation targeting has emerged as the most popular strategy for monetary policy among the world’s major central banks, and become something of a state-of-the-art choice among theorists and central bankers.

No safe haven for artful tax dodgers

Alex Smith-GreatDebate– Alexander Smith is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Big countries have got the world’s tax havens running scared. They must now press home their advantage to stop such countries providing oases for tax dodgers and money launderers.

Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Andorra have all responded to a global crackdown on tax evasion by offering to relax strict bank secrecy laws. This is an important victory for campaigners to put tax havens on the straight and narrow. Until their recent climbdown, Liechtenstein and Andorra were two-thirds of a trio of hardliners that refused to commit to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) standards on transparency and the exchange of information, earning them a place alongside Monaco on the OECD’s blacklist of uncooperative tax havens.

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