NEWPORT BEACH – Three years after the global financial crisis, the global economy remains a confusing place – and for good reasons.
Should we draw comfort from gradual healing in advanced countries and solid growth in emerging economies? Or should we seek refuge against high oil prices, geopolitical shocks in the Middle East, and continued nuclear uncertainties in Japan, the world’s third largest economy?
Many are opting for the first, more reassuring view of the world. Having overcome the worst of the global financial crisis, including a high risk of a worldwide depression, they are heartened by a widely shared sense that composure, if not confidence, has been restored.
This global view is based on multispeed growth dynamics, with the healing and healthy segments of the global economy gradually pulling up the laggards. It is composed of highly profitable multinational companies, now investing and hiring workers; advanced economies’ rescued banks paying off their emergency bailout loans; the growing middle and upper classes in emerging economies buying more goods and services; a healthier private sector paying more taxes, thereby alleviating pressure on government budgets; and Germany, Europe’s economic power, reaping the fruit of years of economic restructuring.
Much, though not all, of the recent data support this global view. Indeed, the world has embarked on a path of gradual economic recovery, albeit uneven and far less vibrant than history would have suggested. If this path is maintained, the recovery will build momentum and broaden in both scope and impact.
But “if” is where the second, less rosy view of the world comes in – a view that worries about both lower growth and higher inflation. While the obstacles are not yet sufficiently serious to derail the ongoing recovery, only a fool would gloss over them. I can think of four major issues – ranked by immediacy and relevance to the well being of the global economy – that are looming larger in importance and becoming more threatening in character.