Opinion

Another slow year for the global economy

The factors that dragged down the global economy in 2015 will persist – and in some cases even intensify – in the new year.

By: Date: January 5, 2016 Topic: Global Economics & Governance

project syndicateThis op-ed was originally published in Project Syndicate.

Last April, the International Monetary Fund projected that the world economy would grow by 3.5% in 2015. In the ensuing months, that forecast was steadily whittled down, reaching 3.1% in October. But the IMF continues to insist – as it has, with almost banal predictability, for the last seven years – that next year will be better. But it is almost certainly wrong yet again.

For starters, world trade is growing at an anemic annual rate of 2%, compared to 8% from 2003 to 2007. Whereas trade growth during those heady years far exceeded that of world GDP, which averaged 4.5%, lately, trade and GDP growth rates have been about the same. Even if GDP growth outstrips growth in trade this year, it will likely amount to no more than 2.7%.

The question is why. According to Christina and David Romer of the University of California, Berkeley, the aftershocks of modern financial crises – that is, since World War II – fade after 2-3 years. The Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff say that it takes five years for a country to dig itself out of a financial crisis. And, indeed, the financial dislocations of 2007-2008 have largely receded. So what accounts for the sluggish economic recovery?

One popular explanation lies in the fuzzy notion of “secular stagnation”: long-term depressed demand for goods and services is undermining incentives to invest and hire. But demand would remain weak only if people lacked confidence in the future. The only logical explanation for this enduring lack of confidence, as Northwestern University’s Robert Gordon has painstakingly documented and argued, is slow productivity growth.

Before the crisis – and especially from 2003 to 2007 – slow productivity growth was being obscured by an illusory sense of prosperity in much of the world. In some countries – notably, the United States, Spain, and Ireland – rising real-estate prices, speculative construction, and financial risk-taking were mutually reinforcing. At the same time, countries were amplifying one another’s growth through trade.

Central to the global boom was China, the rising giant that flooded the world with cheap exports, putting a lid on global inflation. Equally important, China imported a huge volume of commodities, thereby bolstering many African and Latin American economies, and purchased German cars and machines, enabling Europe’s largest economy to keep its regional supply chains humming.

This dynamic reversed around March 2008, when the US rescued its fifth-largest investment bank, Bear Sterns, from collapse. With the eurozone banks also deeply implicated in the subprime mortgage mess and desperately short of US dollars, America and much of Europe began a remorseless slide into recession. Whereas in the boom years, world trade had spread the bounty, it was now spreading the malaise. As each country’s GDP growth slowed, so did its imports, causing its trading partners’ growth to slow as well.

The US economy began to emerge from its recession in the second half of 2009, thanks largely to aggressive monetary policy and steps to stabilize the financial system. Eurozone policymakers, by contrast, rejected monetary stimulus and implemented fiscal austerity measures, while ignoring the deepening distress of their banks. The eurozone thus pushed the world into a second global recession.

Just when that recession seemed to have run its course, emerging economies began to unravel. For years, observers had been touting the governance and growth-enhancing reforms that these countries’ leaders had supposedly introduced. In October 2012, the IMF celebrated emerging economies’ “resilience.” As if on cue, that facade began to crumble, revealing an inconvenient truth: factors like high commodity prices and massive capital inflows had been concealing serious economic weaknesses, while legitimizing a culture of garish inequality and rampant corruption.

These problems are now being compounded by the growth slowdown in China, the fulcrum of global trade. And the worst is yet to come. China’s huge industrial overcapacity and property glut needs to be wound down; the hubris driving its global acquisitions must be reined in; and its corruption networks have to be dismantled.

In short, the factors that dragged down the global economy in 2015 will persist – and in some cases even intensify – in the new year. Emerging economies will remain weak. The eurozone, having enjoyed a temporary reprieve from austerity, will be constrained by listless global trade. Rising interest rates on corporate bonds portend slower growth in the US. China’s collapsing asset values could trigger financial turbulence. And policymakers are adrift, with little political leverage to stem these trends.

The IMF should stop forecasting renewed growth and issue a warning that the global economy will remain weak and vulnerable unless world leaders act energetically to spur innovation and growth. Such an effort is long overdue.

 


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to communication@bruegel.org.

View comments
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

The 4th industrial revolution: opportunities and challenges for Europe and China

What is the current status of EU-China relations concerning innovation, and what might their future look like?

Speakers: Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Chen Dongxiao, Patrick Child, Eric Cornuel, Maria Demertzis, Ding Yuan, Luigi Gambardella, Jiang Jianqing, Frank Kirchner, Pascal Lamy, Li Mingjun, Gwenn Sonck, Gerard Van Schaik, Reinhilde Veugelers, Wang Hongjian, Guntram B. Wolff, Xu Bin, Zhang Hongjun and Zhou Snow Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: July 12, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Opinion

What bond markets tell about China’s economy

Macro data doesn’t provide a comprehensive picture to investors, but bond issuance data can fill in some gaps.

By: Alicia García-Herrero and Gary Ng Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 10, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Farewell, flat world

In the last 50 years, the most important economic development has been the diminishing income gap between the richer and poorer countries. Now, there is a growing realisation that transformations in the global economy have been re-established centrally from intangible investments, to digital networks, to finance and exchange rates.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: July 2, 2019
Read about event

Upcoming Event

Sep
9
08:30

China-EU investment relations: Exploring competition and industrial policies

What parts of Sino-European cooperation are most essential for European leaders? What is the future of an EU-China partnership, and which areas are most important?

Speakers: Alicia García-Herrero Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation, Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event

Upcoming Event

Sep
16
08:30

Climate change and the role of central banks

What connections exist between central banks and climate change, and what are the resulting implications?

Speakers: Emanuele Campiglio, Paul Hiebert, Pierre Monnin, Kjell G. Nyborg, Luiz Awazu Pereira da Silva, Mario Quagliariello, Mattia Romani, Paweł Samecki and Dirk Schoenmaker Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Narodowy Bank Polski, Świętokrzyska 11/21, 00-919 Warsaw
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Tech-enabled payment processes: policy implications of new developments

What challenges does a shift towards new payment processes imply for EU financial services policy?

Speakers: Rebecca Christie, Etienne Goosse, Chirag Patel, Jörn-Jakob Röber, Johannes Vermeire and Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 25, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

China’s investment in Africa: consequences for Europe

How is Chinese investment impacting Africa, and what could be the consequences for Europe?

Speakers: Solange Chatelard, Maria Demertzis, Alicia García-Herrero, Abraham Liu and Estelle Youssouffa Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 24, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Deep Focus: Making a success of EU cohesion policy

Bruegel senior fellow Zsolt Darvas talks to Sean Gibson in this Deep Focus podcast about how the EU can improve its cohesion policy, citing the best examples of its implementation and stressing the methodological difficulties in measuring its effectiveness.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 20, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Sound at last? Assessing a decade of financial regulation

What has changed since the financial crisis of 2008 that makes the financial system sound at last? Is regulatory reform going in the right direction? Has it run its course? 

Speakers: Patrick Bolton, Rebecca Christie, Maria Demertzis, Mathias Dewatripont and Xavier Vives Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 20, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Uncertainty over output gap and structural-balance estimates remains elevated

The EU fiscal framework strongly relies on the structural budget balance indicator, which aims to measure the ‘underlying’ position of the budget. But this indicator is not observed, only estimations can be made. This post shows that estimates of the European Commission, the IMF, the OECD and national governments widely differ from each other and all estimates are subject to very large annual revisions. The EU should get rid of the fiscal rules that rely on structural balance estimates and use this opportunity to fundamentally reform its fiscal framework.

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 17, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

The campaign against ‘nonsense’ output gaps

A campaign against “nonsense” consensus output gaps has been launched on social media. It has triggered responses focusing on the implications of output gaps for fiscal policy under EU rules, especially for Italy. But the debate about the reliability of output-gap estimates is more wide-ranging.

By: Konstantinos Efstathiou Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 17, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Role of national structural reforms in enhancing resilience in the Euro Area

At this event Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist at the IMF will discuss the role of national structural reforms in enhancing resilience in the Euro Area.

Speakers: Shekhar Aiyar, Maria Demertzis, Romain Duval, Gita Gopinath and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 17, 2019
Load more posts