As we are just getting started on what so far is a confusing presidential election campaign, it would be easy to forget how incredibly lucky we are in America. Our country is very strong and we are isolated from many of the world’s problems. The terrorist attacks in Paris over the weekend are a grim reminder of this fact. But we still have responsibility for much of what is happening around the world.
George W. Bush’s biggest failing is not the Iraq War, draining Medicare funds with a new drug benefit or ramping up deficits with tax cuts that lose revenue. His biggest failing is not foreseeing the financial crisis and at least mitigating it if not heading it off entirely. His financial advisors (Greenspan, Bernanke, Geithner, Paulson) were asleep at the switch. As the Economist makes clear in its latest issue, “First America, then Europe. Now the debt crisis has reached the emerging markets.”
Barack Obama’s biggest failing is not the stagnant economy or massive debt buildup which occurred on his watch, although he could have eased their burden with smarter policies. His biggest failing is his unwillingness to assert sufficient power in the Middle East to head off the chaos we observe today. The enormous European refugee crisis with all of its attendant horrors is largely the result of his inadequate intervention in Iraq, Libya and Syria.
The main concerns of this website are the internal fiscal and economic problems faced by the U.S. We have to figure out amongst ourselves how to address these very serious issues. But, like it or not, what we do affects the whole world. If we fail to meet our responsibilities, the whole world, including us, will suffer with the consequences.
Globalization is having a dramatic effect on income distribution around the world as I discussed in a previous post. Middle incomes in the developed world are stagnating while at the same time they are growing rapidly throughout much of the rest of the world.
At the same time as western world economies are stagnating, turmoil and instability are breaking out elsewhere, especially in eastern Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. Fortunately the U.S. and its allies are stepping in with military force to help maintain local order in many parts of the world where it is breaking down.
In short, at the same time, whether connected or not, the postwar geopolitical system is breaking down and the economic stability of the Great Moderation has given way to the Great Recession and its aftermath of macroeconomic volatility.
An interesting article by Chrystia Freeland in the latest issue of The Atlantic, “Globalization Bites Back” addresses both of these issues together. She says “I believe that capitalist democracy has proved itself to be the only compelling, universalist vision of how to live the good life. But the stable world order many of us assumed this thesis foretold has not come to pass.” As the above chart shows, one very positive result of this messy process is likely to occur. The middle class worldwide is predicted to grow from 1.8 billion in 2009 to 4.9 billion in 2030. All of this enormous growth in the size of the middle class will occur outside of North America and Europe.
The implications for the continued prosperity and world leadership of the U.S. are clear. We need to get our own economy back on track, growing at a faster rate. We also need to get our fiscal house in order so that the dollar will continue to be the international currency of choice.
Our dominant role in world affairs is beneficial to all but it is by no means assured without much effort on our part.