Friday, July 29, 2011

Failure of Leadership

From The Economist magazine:
Leaders in America and Europe are dallying with failure on an epic scale. They are constrained by dysfunctional institutions, it's true. In Europe, the architecture of the currency union is far too underdeveloped to weather a crisis of the current magnitude. In America, the creaking machinery of the legislature is ill suited to settlement of big questions on a short time frame amid divided government. But it's no longer sufficient to blame inadequate policy responses on institutions alone. America and Europe are flailing because their leaders are failing. They seem to be too small for the tasks at hand, too petty, and too myopic.

The challenges facing Europe and America are big, but they're not mysterious. In Europe, the issues are sovereign debt, vulnerable banks, and a poorly designed currency area. It's not tricky to see what must be done. Peripheral debts should be addressed through austerity, sure. But unsustainable debt loads need to be written down. Banks should be recapitalised to prevent trouble in financial markets. Emergency funds should be bolstered to fight sovereign and banking contagion. And substantial fiscal integration must take place, including fiscal transfers to support peripheral economies while they get their budgets in order. The central bank should also stop fighting the phantom of accelerating inflation.

European leaders know what they need to do. They have been slow to do it for two reasons. First, the magnitude of the commitment necessary to save the union is uncertain, and they don't want to pay a penny more than is necessary. And second, the distribution of the costs of the commitment is uncertain, and no individual entity wants to pay a penny more than is necessary.


In America, the situation is more ridiculous still. The economy is vulnerable. New data continue to reveal just how weak growth was in the second quarter. The economy may scarcely have expanded at a 1% annual pace. Unsurprisingly, job growth was too slow to keep up with a growing labour force, and the unemployment rate began rising again.


Washington seems practically excited to stamp out optimism. Congress has spent the first month of the third quarter dangling the prospect of a full blown fiscal crisis over the heads of American firms and households. Markets are retreating, and businesses are building up cash reserves as insurance against the worst. After two years of pitifully slow recovery, while tens of millions of workers are un- or underemployed and wages flat, the government is doing its absolute best to kill the latest growth rebound in its crib. It is shocking.

Again, it's not like the correct policy path is incredibly complicated. Here, I'll sum it up in three quick steps:
  1. Don't cause a major crisis.

  2. Do spend more and tax less for the next year or so.

  3. Do spend less and tax more after that.
See? That's really easy! If you wanted to move up to more complicated ideas, you could talk about using the opportunity of record low borrowing costs to make needed, long-overdue investments in critical American infrastructure. Instead, Congress seems determined to convince the world that America shouldn't be allowed to borrow at all, except at highly punitive rates. It might also be a good idea to confirm appointees to the Federal Reserve board who know a thing or two about how labour markets work. Instead, Congress is blocking nominees for sport, citing debasement of the currency while 10-year inflation expectations are under 2%. And while the very same legislators muse publicly about how an American debt default might not be so bad after all.

It's inexcusable. And it is a direct result of a leadership in Washington that is too small-minded to see the danger it's courting by recklessly pursuing a foolish ideological agenda.


One wants to shout at them: stop screwing around! Lives and livelihoods are on the line! Nothing good will come of a return to recession, to saying nothing of a new financial meltdown. And yet, the trifling continues. Sometimes history gives us individuals equal to troubling circumstances. Sometimes it doesn't, and the world suffers. Maybe everything will turn out all right. Shame on the leaders of Europe and America for working so diligently to ensure that it doesn't.
In an interconnected world simultaneous failures are really disasterous. The world is looking very shaky because Japan is still faltering, and China appears to be ready to explode with a credit bubble. We appear to be heading back into a mini-2008 meltdown.

You can thank the idiots in the Republican party and the paralyzed and inadequate "leadership" of Obama for this crash.

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