Everyone knows the world’s economies are becoming ever more intertwined, but we’re only just starting to understand the ripple effects.
Welcome to the new global economy: One guy sneezes, and someone else gets a cold. That’s what we’re seeing in the slowdown now happening in the U.S., in Europe and in emerging market countries all around the world. Barring some kind of radical decoupling, the tight correlation in fates between these economic titans is a phenomenon we had better get used to, and understand, because it’s not going away. Indeed, this fact by itself – that our world is operating more and more like one big system every day – is not all bad news. However, a word of caution: Where interconnectedness yields benefits, it also creates pitfalls. Let’s look at a few examples of how this global system is actually working in our favor.
First, take the recent drop in U.S. Treasury yields. This is the more important macroeconomic story in America right now. Can any politician, with a straight face, continue to claim that getting the Simpson-Bowles recommendations passed into law was any kind of imperative for Congress or the president? The continual driving down of lending costs for the U.S. has made a mockery of credit-rating agency warnings and any perceived threat that a downgrade once held for the U.S. economy. Indeed, it takes some of the air out of the big debt-ceiling showdown that is set to take place between Democrats and Republicans in January 2013, when the $110 billion-dollar budget reduction is set to take automatic effect. It becomes increasingly hard to argue that reducing the deficit is priority number one to getting the country back on track when the cost of lending is so incredibly cheap and when the world’s investors are telling the U.S. they want more, not less of it.
Now, the low cost of lending today is not to say that the U.S. should be running up the debt, nor does it mean Washington can avoid addressing its structural spending issues – it very much can’t. But is now the right time to do that? For those who claim we should be listening to the signals the markets give us, it’s clearly not the right time to be cutting back on spending.
But now let’s consider the U.S. debt ceiling in light of the never-ending drama that is the euro zone crisis. There’s a growing sense in the U.S. and on the Continent that America has wasted its financial crisis. Its banks are bigger and seemingly more powerful than ever. (See Jamie Dimon’s Senate testimony, where he mostly had our public servants, some of whom are his former employees, wrapped around his little finger.) Meaningful financial regulatory reform still feels ephemeral at best, the economy is recovering only in fits and starts, and yet the entire country seems indignant that the whole thing isn’t moving along faster. In Europe, to the contrary, nothing is healed, and little has been reformed, and politicians there, led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, continue to insist that no zone-wide bailouts are coming until the peripheral countries set their own fiscal houses in order.