With Donald Trump’s apparently escalating trade war very much in the news, here are some wise words from Peking University’s Michael Pettis, taken from the final pages of his 2013 book The Great Rebalancing – Trade, Conflict, and the Perilous Road Ahead for the WorldEconomy (p.192-194). They seem particularly relevant right now. Continue reading →
2018 marks 24 years since I first took an interest in what is sometimes referred to as the ‘dismal science’. Not a particularly notable landmark, though it is more than half my life. And I certainly have not spent all that time with my nose in books about economics, although I have spent quite a bit of it like that, maybe more than is good for me.
Apparently it was the Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle who coined the phrase dismal science in the 19th century. I am sometimes inclined to agree, when observing a malfunctioning economy and its malfunctioning stewards in government and business. But more often I am prepared to be optimistic that we can find solutions to the problems of humanity. Some of them might even come from studying economics!
Keynes looked forward to a time when the economist’s role in society would be akin to that of dentists, as humble, competent fixers of minor problems. Notwithstanding a call from the UK’s current environment secretary during the campaign for Brexit to pay less attention to experts, economists and their ideological categories of supply, demand and growth have become extremely powerful and accepted, even if with passivity, resignation or incomprehension. Continue reading →
More thought-provoking words from Michael Pettis on global economics and politics, particularly the relationship between the US and China, the pressures on international trading relationships and the two countries’ roles in future decades.
He describes the options open to the dominant global powers in restoring a more sustained pattern of growth and prosperity: one country can lead, or we can all get together and cooperate over economic policy.
He suggests that we are living through a period during which neither are likely. Furthermore, the experience of the 1920s and 30s demonstrate that this power vacuum could be bad for us all.
I refer to the work of Michael Pettis quite often on this blog. He strikes me as a highly original thinker, combining macroeconomics, finance, development, political economy and economic history in a way which provides a deep understanding of world economic events.
He recently posted here about what he sees as the two main models of economic development which nations have used to transform their economies at certain times in history: the high wages model, and the high savings model.
Models of development can be described as a set of policies and institutions which aim to develop the economy and achieve sustained rises in productivity and output via industrialisation and the advancement of technology.
For Pettis, both models aim to raise wages and productivity, but they are distinct from one another in how they drive the investment which makes this possible. Continue reading →
Michael Pettis is a Professor of Finance at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, and an economist whose work I have found to be original, interesting and inspiring. His book The Great Rebalancing explores the role of current account imbalances in the Great Recession and its aftermath of slow growth. I explore some of his ideas in more detail here.
Particularly relevant to today’s events is his prediction that, just as in the 1930s, in a world of limited demand, tensions over international trade are inevitable.
In the short video below, he explores some of the issues facing China’s economy over the next decade, its misallocated investment and unsustainable rise in debt, relations with the US including trade tensions, GDP and its measurement, and liberalization under different economic and financial circumstances.
Tracing a connection between rising inequality and the Great Recession of 2008 is appealing to leftist economists. It suggests that what they see as two of the potential downsides of capitalism and in particular the neoliberal economic order can perhaps be mitigated via appropriate policies. Thus, a more egalitarian capitalism can become less prone to crisis or recession.
Of course, what is appealing as social and economic outcomes is not a good enough reason to investigate linkages between them, though I suspect that I am far from the only one who is drawn to particular ideas as a matter of bias.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that as a starting point, followed by economic analysis of the chosen object of study.
These three countries had the largest current account imbalances in absolute terms in the run-up to the recession. The US ran a deficit, and Germany and China were running surpluses. Since these imbalances have been pinpointed by some economists as a cause of the recession itself, analysing them is important. Continue reading →
Yanis Varoufakis is a self-styled ‘erratic Marxist’ and a former finance minister of Greece under the Syriza-led government. He penned his illuminating book The Global Minotaur (TGM) some years ago, in the aftermath of the evolving Global Financial Crisis.
He has become a prolific writer for the intelligent layman, and his website is well worth a look, particularly for those interested in progressive reform in the European Union and the Eurozone.
TGM is Varoufakis’ thesis on the roots of the crisis, which according to him lie back in the 1940s, towards the end of World War II. At that time, the US had emerged as the global capitalist hegemon, economically, politically and militarily.
The 1944 Bretton Woods Conference in New Hampshire was attended by such figures as the economist John Maynard Keynes, who led the British delegation, and Harry Dexter White, his US counterpart. The aim was to construct a post-war global economic and financial order which would avoid another Great Depression, as had occurred in the 1930s, and the achievement of peace and prosperity via international cooperation. Continue reading →