Revisiting the White Swans of 2020
At the start of the year, when COVID-19 was barely on anyone's radar outside of China, the global economy was entering a fraught phase, facing a range of potentially devastating tail risks. And though the pandemic has since turned the world on its head, all of these threats remain – and some have become more salient.
The Main Street Manifesto
The historic protests sweeping America were long overdue, not just as a response to racism and police violence, but also as a revolt against entrenched plutocracy. With a growing number of Americans falling into unemployment and economic insecurity, while major corporations take bailouts and slash labor costs, something had to give.
Europe’s Non-Hamiltonian Muddle
Although any joint EU action should be welcomed, the current COVID-19 response plan hardly amounts to a radical break with business as usual. Far from a long-awaited embrace of debt mutualization, the newly proposed European recovery fund risks being both politically unpalatable and economically inadequate.
The Coming Greater Depression of the 2020s
While there is never a good time for a pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis has arrived at a particularly bad moment for the global economy. The world has long been drifting into a perfect storm of financial, political, socioeconomic, and environmental risks, all of which are now growing even more acute.
A Greater Depression?
With the COVID-19 pandemic still spiraling out of control, the best economic outcome that anyone can hope for is a recession deeper than that following the 2008 financial crisis. But given the flailing policy response so far, the chances of a far worse outcome are increasing by the day.
The White Swans of 2020
Financial markets remain blissfully in denial of the many predictable global crises that could come to a head this year, particularly in the months before the US presidential election. In addition to the increasingly obvious risks associated with climate change, at least four countries want to destabilize the US from within.
Financial Markets’ Iran Delusion
A restrained reprisal by Iran following the assassination of its top military commander has led markets to conclude that the latest threat to the global economy has been removed. But just because Iran and the United States have so far avoided a full-scale war does not mean that markets are out of the woods.
Trump Will Make China Great Again
Despite the latest Sino-American "skinny deal" to ease tensions over trade, technology, and other issues, it is now clear that the world's two largest economies have entered a new era of sustained competition. How the relationship will evolve depends greatly on America's political leadership – which does not bode well.
Why Financial Markets’ New Exuberance Is Irrational
Owing to a recent easing of both Sino-American tensions and monetary policies, many investors seem to be betting on another era of expansion for the global economy. But they would do well to remember that the fundamental risks to growth remain, and are actually getting worse.
The Allure and Limits of Monetized Fiscal Deficits
With the global economy experiencing a synchronized slowdown, any number of tail risks could bring on an outright recession. When that happens, policymakers will almost certainly pursue some form of central-bank-financed stimulus, regardless of whether the situation calls for it.
Four Collision Courses for the Global Economy
Between US President Donald Trump's zero-sum disputes with China and Iran, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's brinkmanship with Parliament and the European Union, and Argentina's likely return to Peronist populism, the fate of the global economy is balancing on a knife edge. Any of these scenarios could lead to a crisis with rapid spillover effects.
The Anatomy of the Coming Recession
Unlike the 2008 global financial crisis, which was mostly a large negative aggregate demand shock, the next recession is likely to be caused by permanent negative supply shocks from the Sino-American trade and technology war. And trying to undo the damage through never-ending monetary and fiscal stimulus will not be an option.
The Great Crypto Heist
Cryptocurrencies have given rise to an entire new criminal industry, comprising unregulated offshore exchanges, paid propagandists, and an army of scammers looking to fleece retail investors. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of rampant fraud and abuse, financial regulators and law-enforcement agencies remain asleep at the wheel.
The Coming Sino-American Bust-Up
Whether or not US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, agree to another truce at the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka, the Sino-American conflict has already entered a dangerous new phase. Though a negotiated settlement or a managed continuation of the status quo are possible, a sharp escalation is now the most likely scenario.
The Growing Risk of a 2020 Recession and Crisis
Across the advanced economies, monetary and fiscal policymakers lack the tools needed to respond to another major downturn and financial crisis. Worse, while the world no longer needs to worry about a hawkish US Federal Reserve strangling growth, it now has an even bigger problem on its hands.
The Global Consequences of a Sino-American Cold War
What started as a trade war between the United States and China is quickly escalating into a death match for global economic, technological, and military dominance. If the two countries' leaders cannot manage the defining relationship of the twenty-first century responsibly, the entire world will bear the costs of their failure.
Bipolar Markets in the “New Mediocre”
After the global risk-off of late 2018, a newfound dovishness on the part of central bankers has combined with other positive developments to revive investors' animal spirits. But with a wide array of financial and political risks clearly in view, one should not assume that the current ebullience will last the year.
Understanding the Fed’s Dovish Turn
Over the past few years, the US Federal Reserve has been ahead of other major central banks in normalizing monetary policy. But now the Fed has abruptly put further interest-rate hikes on hold, owing to key changes in macroeconomic conditions and the political environment.
A Mixed Economic Bag in 2019
Since the global synchronized growth of 2017, economic conditions have been gradually weakening and will produce an across-the-board deceleration in the months ahead. Beyond that, the prospect for markets and national economies will depend on a broad range of factors, some of which do not bode well.
Trump vs. the Economy
Between publicly chastising US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and escalating his trade war with China, US President Donald Trump has finally rattled the markets. While investors were happy to look the other way during the first half of Trump's term, the dangerous spectacle unfolding in the White House can no longer be ignored.
Why Central Bank Digital Currencies Will Destroy Cryptocurrencies
Leading economic policymakers are now considering whether central banks should issue their own digital currencies, to be made available to everyone, rather than just to licensed commercial banks. The idea deserves serious consideration, as it would replace an inherently crisis-prone banking system and close the door on crypto-scammers.
The Big Blockchain Lie
Now that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted from last year's absurdly high valuations, the techno-utopian mystique of so-called distributed-ledger technologies should be next. The promise to cure the world's ills through "decentralization" was just a ruse to separate retail investors from their hard-earned real money.
The Makings of a 2020 Recession and Financial Crisis
Although the global economy has been undergoing a sustained period of synchronized growth, it will inevitably lose steam as unsustainable fiscal policies in the US start to phase out. Come 2020, the stage will be set for another downturn – and, unlike in 2008, governments will lack the policy tools to manage it.
Trump May Kill the Global Recovery
In a sharp departure from this time last year, the global economy is now being buffeted by growing concerns over US President Donald Trump's trade war, fragile emerging markets, a slowdown in Europe, and other risks. It is safe to say that the period of low volatility and synchronized global growth is behind us.
Italy’s Slow-Motion Euro Train Wreck
Financial markets have finally woken up to the fact that Italy could soon be ruled by a populist government with designs to take the country out of the eurozone. And, given Italy's tepid economic performance since adopting the single currency a generation ago, there is little reason to think that the current crisis is a one-off event.
Initial Coin Scams
There are now nearly 1,600 cryptocurrencies, and the number continues to rise. It is time to start recognizing their issuers' utopian rhetoric for what it is: self-serving nonsense meant to separate credulous investors from their hard-earned savings.
The Blockchain Pipe Dream
Even after a sharp correction earlier this year, the price of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has remained unsustainably high, and techno-libertarians have continued to insist that blockchain technologies will revolutionize the way business is done. In fact, blockchain might just be the most over-hyped technology of all time.
Blockchain’s Broken Promises
Boosters of blockchain technology compare its early days to the early days of the Internet. But whereas the Internet quickly gave rise to email, the World Wide Web, and millions of commercial ventures, blockchain's only application – cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin – does not even fulfill its stated purpose.
Populist Plutocracy and the Future of America
In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump has consistently sold out the blue-collar, socially conservative whites who brought him to power, while pursuing policies to enrich his fellow plutocrats. Sooner or later, Trump's core supporters will wake up to this fact, so it is worth asking how far he might go to keep them on his side.
The Plot Against America’s 99%
US President Donald Trump, in partnership with congressional Republicans, is pursuing tax cuts that will blow up the fiscal deficit and add to the public debt, while benefit the rich at the expense of middle- and working-class Americans. Once again, Trump has not hesitated to betray the people he conned into voting for him.
Three Scenarios for the Global Economy
The International Monetary Fund, which in recent years had characterized global growth as the “new mediocre,” recently upgraded its World Economic Outlook. But is the IMF right to think that the recent growth spurt will continue over the next few years, or is a temporary cyclical upswing about to be subdued by new tail risks?
The Mystery of the Missing Inflation
Since the summer of 2016, the global economy has been in a period of moderate expansion, yet inflation has yet to pick up in the advanced economies. The question that inflation-targeting central banks must confront is straightforward: why?
A Dim Outlook for Trumponomics
Now that US President Donald Trump has been in office for six months, the prospects for the US economy and economic policymaking under his administration can be more confidently assessed. And, like Trump’s presidency more generally, paradoxes abound.
The New Abnormal in Monetary Policy
Financial markets are starting to get rattled by the winding down of unconventional monetary policies in many advanced economies. But such policies may not be gone for long, because a new recession or financial crisis would force central banks to deploy measures such as quantitative easing and negative interest rates once again.
The Global Recovery’s Downside Risks
Recent economic data from around the world suggest that growth could soon accelerate, now that the global economy has weathered multiple crises over the past two years. And yet the possibility of another global slowdown – if not an outright stall – cannot be ruled out.
Whistling Past the Geopolitical Graveyard
Even with geopolitical conflicts proliferating around the world, global financial markets have reached new heights. But while there are many explanations for why investors might be underpricing today's risks, there is no good reason for them to ignore the possibility of another "black swan" event on the horizon.
A Fiscal Reality Test for US Republicans
After failing to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act, US President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are now pursing tax reform, as if this will be any easier. It won’t be, as evidenced by the fact that all of the Republicans’ initial proposals are already dead in the water.
America’s Bad Border Tax
US Republican leaders claim that a border-adjustment tax – which would effectively subsidize US exporters and penalize importers – would improve the US trade balance and boost domestic production, investment, and employment. They are wrong.
The End of Trump’s Market Honeymoon
Expectations of stimulus, lower taxes, and deregulation might boost the US economy and the stock market’s performance in the short term. But US President Donald Trump's inconsistent, erratic, and destructive policies will take a heavy toll on domestic and global economic growth in the long run.
“America First” and Global Conflict Next
When America pursued “America first,” policies in the 1920s and 1930s, it brought on the Great Depression and helped sow the seeds of World War II. If US President-elect Donald Trump shifts US geopolitical strategy similarly toward isolationism and unilateralism, there is little reason to expect a better outcome.
Trump’s Monetary Conundrum
If the US Federal Reserve becomes too hawkish too soon, it will strengthen the US dollar, undermining Donald Trump’s stated goal of creating jobs and boosting incomes for his blue-collar base. Given his proposed fiscal expansion, Trump would be better off keeping Barack Obama's dovish appointees.
The Taming of Trump
Donald Trump is a businessman who relishes the “art of the deal,” so he is by definition more of a pragmatist than a blinkered ideologue. Once in office, he will throw symbolic red meat to his blue-collar supporters, while reverting to the same supply-side, trickle-down economic policies that Republicans have favored for decades.