Opinion

Mohamed El-Erian

Americans can ill-afford this debt ceiling debacle

Mohamed El-Erian
Jul 25, 2011 14:45 UTC

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

Friday’s stunning and very public quarrel between the president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives was the catalyst for a weekend of frantic negotiations on how to increase America’s debt ceiling, maintain the country’s sacred AAA rating, and avoid a near-term default. Meanwhile, administration officials and members of Congress took to the airwaves on Sunday trying, but largely failing, to strike the balance between statesmanship and another round of the Washington blame game.

It was hoped that all this would serve as a prelude to a political compromise announced just before the opening of Asian markets. This did not materialize. But while another self-imposed deadline has been missed, it is likely that the nation’s leadership will stumble into a short-term compromise over the next few days — one that raises the debt ceiling and avoids a debt default but, importantly, leaves the AAA rating extremely vulnerable and does little to lift the damaging clouds hanging over the US economy.

It will come down to the wire; and when the stopgap compromise is reached, many in Washington will declare victory and, in the process, claim credit for averting a national disaster. Yet the resolution will likely be temporary, and the damage will be real and long-lasting — both of which render an already worrisome situation even more difficult going forward. Indeed, by illustrating so vividly to the whole world what is ailing America, the weekend’s political theatrics should make us all worry even more about the world’s largest economy.

First, consider the context. America’s already-fragile economic psyche and its global standing have taken a material hit. Forget about “animal spirits” for now. Instead, worry even more about an economy that is already having tremendous difficulty sustaining an acceptable growth momentum, and that already suffers from an unemployment crisis that is increasingly protracted in nature. Analysts will now scramble to again revise down their projections for growth, and up those for unemployment.

Second, remember the content. The debt and deficit issues that are at the root of the debt ceiling drama are, unfortunately, a small part of a much larger set of structural impediments to employment, investment and wealth creation. The housing sector is still languishing, credit intermediation is uneven, infrastructure investment is lagging, job skill mismatches are increasing, and income and wealth inequalities are worsening.

Is Europe’s debt crisis a “Lehman Moment” for America?

Mohamed El-Erian
Jul 5, 2011 14:37 UTC

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

With its high unemployment and stretched balance sheets, today’s US economy can ill-afford a negative shock from abroad. Yet, this is what it is experiencing. And it explains why markets go through bouts of nervousness about the debt crisis in Europe, and why American policymakers are worried about a foreign financial situation that is getting worse by the day.

Europe’s debt problem is indeed a headwind for what remains a disappointing US economic recovery. It dampens America’s export prospects, can raise the cost of borrowing for some American companies and diminishes an already low enthusiasm among banks to lend to households and small companies.

Having said that, it is unlikely, though not inconceivable, that Europe’s debt crisis would constitute a “Lehman Moment” — a situation that totally paralyzes American economic activity, puts the country on the verge of a depression and triggers yet another round of extreme crisis management measures.

A live Q&A with Mohamed El-Erian

Jul 1, 2011 16:40 UTC

On Thursday, July 7 at 9am ET, CEO of PIMCO Mohamed El-Erian will be taking your questions live and answering them here. Please join us and leave your comments and questions for him below.

El-Erian’s previous columns have talked about the European debt crisis, how to make Egypt’s revolution successful, the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Christine Lagarde and what he learned from his recent visit to Tokyo, Japan.

You can also post your questions on the Reuters Facebook page or send them over Twitter using the hashtag #askmohamed or @kherrup.

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