Opinion

Mohamed El-Erian

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.

With insufficient growth, un- and under-employment remain distressingly high while the average duration of joblessness hits one unfortunate record after another. To make a bad situation even worse, it is the most vulnerable segments of the labor force – the young and the less educated – who are being hit the hardest. In the process, society experiences a further deterioration in already excessive inequalities in income and wealth.

Low growth means that America is unable to “safely de-lever” from the financial excesses of the last decade. As a result, the economy faces a risk of tipping into another recession.

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).

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.

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