Will Policy Makers Turn A Global Economic Slowdown Into A Crisis?

The recent macroeconomic data of the leading economies point to a widespread slowdown. What is more concerning is not just a logical moderation in the path of growth, but the acceleration in the weakening of economies that were supposed to be stronger and healthier. It is even more concerning that this aggressive worsening of key leading indicators in China, the EU, and most emerging economies happens at the peak of the largest monetary and fiscal stimulus in decades.

It is easy to blame this widespread weakening on political headlines, trade wars, and — of course —Trump, but it would be disingenuous to believe those are the real factors behind the negative economic surprise.

The pace of global recoveries since 1975 has been slower and weaker, consistently, according to the OECD. Recoveries take longer and happen slower. At the same time, periods of crisis are less aggressive albeit more frequent than prior to 1975. Another interesting evidence of the crises and recoveries since 1975 is that almost all economies end the recession period with more debt than before.

These factors are all concerning, but the evidence also shows that economic progress has continued regardless and that the main factors of wellbeing have improved dramatically. I had the opportunity of meeting Johan Norberg, author of “Progress” and we discussed all the positive elements we have seen in the past decades. In the same period, from 1975 to 2018, extreme poverty has been reduced to all-time lows. Hunger, poverty, illiteracy, child mortality… all those terrible problems have been dramatically reduced to the lowest levels in history. That is the positive.

However, recognizing the positive is important, but ignoring the risks is dangerous. Global debt has ballooned to all-time highs, more than three times the world GDP. For those elements of progress to continue improving, we must stop the race of perverse incentives created by the wrong analysis of the origin of crises and the solutions that are often proposed in mainstream economics and politics. I agree with Norberg that the two main factors that have driven the phenomenal progress we have seen are free markets and openness. The freedom to innovate, experiment, create and share must come with the right incentives.

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