Opinion

Mohamed El-Erian

Learning from tomorrow’s leaders

Mohamed El-Erian
Feb 6, 2012 17:42 UTC

Have you tried speaking to a group of bright high school students wondering about what the current state of the world means for them and what they should do about it? I am grateful to have done so last week: I ended up gaining insights into how some of tomorrow’s leaders are thinking about the world they will inherit.

My presentation was divided into three parts. The conversations that ensued, both at the talk and thereafter, were broader in scope and, yes, much more interesting.

We first tried to construct a framework that finds common links among headlines that many teenagers find troubling, and understandably so. Unfortunately it is a rather long list, including indicators of too few jobs, too much debt, growing social tensions, squabbling and ineffective politicians and, more generally, a sense that America is losing vibrancy at a time when some other parts of the world are getting stronger and less predictable.

To identify these links we spoke about why and how confidence is eroding in America’s ability to deliver on its long-standing promises of prosperity, opportunity and social fairness. We then traced this to damaging institutional failures in the private and public sectors, insufficient investment in America’s future, multiyear debt dynamics and the realities of fundamental global realignments.

Our second challenge was to ask whether this state of affairs is reversible. The answer is clearly yes, but it will take a major, comprehensive, sustained effort to change some things and to do others much better. This will only occur if, first, there is a better sense of shared responsibility and, second, our elected representatives overcome their inclination to bicker and instead converge on a common vision and purpose.

Davos at a distance

Mohamed El-Erian
Jan 17, 2012 17:10 UTC

I’ve never been to Davos, despite attempts by many over the years to persuade me to go. Don’t get me wrong. I understand that it is a special event for many people, and for many reasons. It is anchored by wide-ranging and engaging agendas, and participants get to mingle with a global cornucopia of important people. It is also the place to see and be seen for heads of state, politicians, academics, thought-leaders, media pundits, CEOs, and movie stars.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in that intimate setting remains one of the year’s hottest tickets, but its organizers want their event to be much more than what it currently is—a big, prestigious talk-shop. They want it to influence policy at the national, regional, and global levels.

Yet, over the years, and in the context of an increasingly unsettled and uncertain world, Davos has not had much impact.

The new international economic disorder

Mohamed El-Erian
Dec 21, 2011 19:35 UTC

By Mohamed El-Erian

The views expressed are his own.


A new economic order is taking shape before our eyes, and it is one that includes accelerated convergence between the old Western powers and the emerging world’s major new players. But the forces driving this convergence have little to do with what generations of economists envisaged when they pointed out the inadequacy of the old order; and these forces’ implications may be equally unsettling.

For decades, many people lamented the extent to which the West dominated the global economic system. From the governance of multilateral organizations to the design of financial services, the global infrastructure was seen as favoring Western interests. While there was much talk of reform, Western countries repeatedly countered serious efforts that would result in meaningful erosion of their entitlements.

On the few occasions that such resistance was seemingly overcome, the outcome was gradual and timid change. Consequently, many emerging-market economies lost confidence in the “pooled insurance” that the global system supposedly put at their disposal, especially at times of great need.

Prepare for a different financial landscape

Mohamed El-Erian
Dec 5, 2011 16:51 UTC

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

With the European crisis continuing to dominate the news, many people now realize that today’s global economy faces an unusually uncertain outlook. Indeed, Europe’s turmoil is but one of the multiple global re-alignments in play today. What may be less well recognized is the extent to which specific sectors are already changing in a consequential and permanent manner.

This is particularly true for global finance where volatility has increased, liquidity is evaporating, and the role of government is pronounced but inconsistent. This is a sector where the functioning of markets is changing, along with the outlook for institutions. The implications are relevant for both economic growth and jobs.

The recent volatility in financial markets – be it the dizzying swings in equities around the world or the fragmentation of European sovereign bonds – far exceeds what is warranted by the ongoing global re-alignments. We are also seeing the impact of a consequential shift in underlying liquidity conditions – or the oil that lubricates the flow of the credit and the related ability of savers and borrowers to find each other and interact efficiently.

Could America turn out worse than Japan?

Mohamed El-Erian
Oct 31, 2011 14:20 UTC

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

It is time to say goodbye to the confident reassurances from American policymakers that Japan could not “happen here.” It is also time to regret the smug assertions that Japan’s “lost decade” of growth was due to a combination of uniquely Japanese failings – from insufficient policy activism to weak corporate governance and poor political leadership.

American policymakers, together with their European counterparts, are realizing something that Japan has been experiencing for a while: It is very difficult to manage well an economy hobbled by structural impediments and balance sheet excesses. Absent a major change in the effectiveness of the policy approach, this realization will likely lead to broadening societal concerns about the possible “Japanization” of America and, with that, worries that under such circumstances the country would not be able to navigate such a phenomenon as well as Japan has.

The US continues to find it difficult to generate meaningful economic growth and to create enough jobs. Despite multiple fiscal and monetary stimulus programs – indeed, record breaking ones – the economy has failed to recover decisively from the sharp contraction that followed the global financial crisis.

An unsettling trifecta for market contagion

Mohamed El-Erian
Oct 3, 2011 14:26 UTC

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

Friday’s worldwide sell-off was a fitting end to a miserable month and a horrible quarter for equity markets.

The 14.3 percent quarterly loss in the S&P, a widely-followed index for the largest stock market in the world, was its worst performance since the fourth quarter of 2008 — a particularly bad omen given the additional market collapse that followed in the first quarter of 2009 and that brought the world to the brink of a global economic depression. Meanwhile, market and economic narratives are dominated even more now by words such as alarm, anxiety, worry and, to quote from the latest Federal Reserve statement, “significant downside risk.”

Is all this an exaggeration? Are markets stuck in an irrational cycle of self-feeding fear? Is the volatility, including eye-popping intra-day swings, just a head fake?

Europeans must not let their “Washington Intervention” go to waste

Mohamed El-Erian
Sep 26, 2011 13:21 UTC

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

European officials must feel like that they were just on the receiving end of an “intervention” staged by their colleagues from other countries – a process whereby a group of people come together to “shock” a friend/family member into recognizing the depth of a personal crisis and the urgency of embarking on proper corrective actions.

The venue was this past weekend’s Annual Meetings of the IMF and World Bank. This event brings together policymakers from almost 190 countries, along with business leaders and media. It is full of formal meetings, seminars, press conferences, and bilateral discussions.

It is a well-attended gathering that serves many purposes. One of them is to enable policymakers to collectively get a feel for the state of a highly inter-connected and complex global economy. At times in the past, this has proved absolutely critical for designing policy responses that avoided terrible collective outcomes.

The G-7 disappoints again

Mohamed El-Erian
Sep 12, 2011 14:14 UTC

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

Unlike recent G-7 meetings of finance ministers and central bankers that were essentially ignored, there was quite a bit of interest in the one held over this past weekend in Marseille. That interest turned out to be misplaced, however, as the G-7 delivered little of substance yet again.

Once more, the G-7 issued a communiqué whose disappointing lack of content contrasts sharply with the deteriorating health of the global economy, the intense risks ahead, and legitimate policy confusion. As an illustration, try reconciling the G-7′s “catch all” wording on fiscal policy — “we must all set out and implement ambitious and growth-friendly fiscal consolidation plans rooted within credible fiscal frameworks” — with the two strikingly opposing views expressed last week by Germany’s Finance Minister and the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

It is not just that the G-7 disagrees on policy prescriptions; the group failed again to converge to the type of common analysis that lies at the root of any coherent policy formulation.

Workers’ malaise foreshadows wider social issues

Mohamed El-Erian
Sep 2, 2011 13:26 UTC

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

This weekend’s Labor Day celebrations in America mark a difficult time for workers. Having experienced a multi-year decline in their share of national income, they are now suffering the brunt of the current economic malaise; and there is little to suggest that the situation will improve any time soon. As a result, the country’s economic hardships risk morphing from pressuring specific segments of the population to undermining more general aspects of social justice.

The numbers are striking — and worrisome. Over the last 30 years, labor’s share of the national pie has declined to 44 percent from 52 percent, with profits growing at twice the annual rate for average wages.

This morning’s monthly employment report adds to the concerns. Unemployment remains very high, whether measured by the most-quoted unemployment rate (9.1 percent), the less partial under- and un-employment rate, (16.2 percent) or, most comprehensively, the proportion of total adults who are not working (42 percent compared to 35 percent 10 years ago).

Deal or no deal, debt drama is not going away

Mohamed El-Erian
Aug 1, 2011 13:58 UTC

Are you tired of all the stories on Europe’s financial crisis and American politicians’ endless bickering about debt and deficits? Are you tired of weekends of hectic negotiations as policymakers rush to cobble together some agreement before markets open? If you are, you are not the only one.

Millions of people, including stressed-out policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, wish to put these issues behind them. Unfortunately, despite many announcements, they are unable to do so decisively, and for good reason.

So we better understand why, if we want to minimize the risk of collateral damage and unintended consequences.

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