Friday, November 28, 2014
7

La recuperación de Estados Unidos

NEWPORT BEACH – Desde que la crisis financiera global de 2008 lo llevó al equivalente económico de la sala de emergencias, Estados Unidos ha pasado por un arduo período de intervención y rehabilitación. Primero lo transfirieron de la unidad de terapia intensiva a la sala de recuperación; después, no hace mucho, le dieron el alta. La pregunta ahora es si la economía estadounidense está lista, ya no solo para caminar, sino para correr a toda velocidad. De la respuesta depende en gran medida el futuro de la economía global.

Resulta fácil olvidar la gravedad de la situación allá por el cuarto trimestre de 2008 y el primero de 2009. Tras sufrir lo que los economistas llaman una “parada repentina”, muchos sectores de la economía estadounidense implosionaron o dejaron de funcionar. Siguiendo con nuestra metáfora médica, diríamos que hasta los órganos más vitales estaban comprometidos.

La actividad económica colapsó y el desempleo se disparó. El crédito dejó de fluir. Los bancos estaban al borde de la bancarrota y la nacionalización. El comercio internacional estaba trastornado. Empeoraron las desigualdades de ingresos y riqueza. Y una sensación general de temor e incertidumbre impedía a los pocos sectores sanos de la economía embarcarse en planes serios de contratación, inversión y expansión.

Era una situación peligrosa y requería medidas drásticas. Que es lo que se le aplicó a la economía, en la forma de un paquete de estímulo fiscal sin precedentes y un intervencionismo inesperado por parte de la Reserva Federal de los Estados Unidos.

En su intervención, los responsables políticos estadounidenses mantuvieron en todo momento una fluida comunicación con sus homólogos de todo el mundo y los urgieron a tomar medidas de apoyo. La buena respuesta obtenida dio lugar a uno de los períodos de coordinación política internacional más exitosos de la historia, en el que estuvieron involucradas tanto economías avanzadas como emergentes.

Muchos señalan la cumbre económica internacional de abril de 2009 en Londres como el momento en que la economía estadounidense superó la peor parte de la crisis. El cambio fue tan notable que muchos responsables políticos (sobre todo con el historial de dinamismo económico y resiliencia de los Estados Unidos) cayeron en la trampa de creer que habría un rebote inmediato; pero tuvieron que retractarse cuando el proceso de recuperación resultó mucho más largo y complejo de lo que se pensaba. Incluso hoy, este proceso pone de relieve la escala y la magnitud de las debilidades estructurales de la economía.

Aminorado el riesgo de una recaída en la recesión, la economía estadounidense ya puede moverse por sus propios medios, aunque en forma vacilante. El terrible colapso del mercado laboral se transformó en una suba sostenida del nivel de empleo mes a mes, pero que todavía no alcanza para una recuperación plena. Un gran incremento de las exportaciones facilitó un repunte de la actividad fabril. En cuanto al sector de vivienda, parece estar tocando fondo (aunque la financiación inmobiliaria aún es incoherente). Los consumidores tienen mejor acceso al crédito. Y las empresas, conscientes de todos estos cambios, comienzan a desplegar las inmensas reservas de efectivo precautorias que habían estado acumulando.

Estados Unidos es todavía y con diferencia la mayor economía del mundo y el ancla del sistema monetario internacional; por eso, su bienestar repercute en gran medida en todas partes del mundo. No sorprende entonces que la recuperación estadounidense haya ayudado a crear un clima tranquilizador y constructivo, justo en un momento crítico en el que Europa todavía se enfrenta a una crisis de deuda en la periferia de la eurozona y las economías emergentes atraviesan la fase descendente del ciclo económico.

También hay en juego cuestiones políticas, de modo tal que influyen considerablemente en la identidad de quien dirigirá a la superpotencia mundial después de la elección presidencial y legislativa de noviembre próximo. La mejora de la situación económica ya colabora con las posibilidades de reelección del presidente Barack Obama (y otro tanto hace el culebrón de las primarias republicanas, prolongadas, divisorias y costosas).

El problema es que ahora puede ocurrir (y probablemente ocurrirá) que la sensación de alivio se lleve demasiado lejos. De hecho, las buenas noticias de la actualidad no deberían distraernos de las limitaciones estructurales que vendrán a continuación y que obligarán a aplicar precaución y una terapia prolongada. Después de todo, la economía estadounidense, que todavía tiene que recobrar todas sus fuerzas, está demasiado debilitada estructuralmente para sostener un avance rápido y aún no empezó a superar los numerosos efectos distorsivos colaterales de la medicina extrema que se le administró.

Afianzar la recuperación implica un programa plurianual de reformas serias y coordinadas que mejore desde los cimientos la forma que tiene el país de educar y capacitar a sus ciudadanos, de invertir en infraestructura y financiar gastos productivos y de vivienda, de competir en la economía global y de formular un proceso presupuestario racional que luego respete. Ese programa también demandará que Estados Unidos supere varios desafíos clave en los próximos meses mientras se sigue recuperando.

Para empezar, la economía todavía no está lista para enfrentar el “abismo fiscal” (entre 4 y 5% del PIB) que se avecina para fin de año, cuando haya que tomar todas las decisiones políticas difíciles que se vienen posponiendo. La perspectiva de una contracción fiscal caótica tiene que sustituirse con un enfoque más racional que no ponga en riesgo la frágil recuperación. Para esto, es necesario que la clase política evite caer en discusiones como la que en 2011 casi llevó a Estados Unidos a otra recesión y sembró serias dudas sobre la calidad de la gobernanza económica del país.

El precio del petróleo no es ninguna ayuda. Tras el alza por la incertidumbre geopolítica en torno de Irán, ya altera el comportamiento de los consumidores estadounidenses y debilita su confianza, agrava los desequilibrios de la balanza de pagos del país y reduce todavía más la flexibilidad de los encargados de definir políticas.

Y queda además Europa, que todavía debe terminar de superar sus problemas de deuda y crecimiento. Igual que otros países, Estados Unidos no puede dejar de reforzar sus defensas internas para limitar su vulnerabilidad a lo que todavía es una crisis compleja del otro lado del Atlántico.

Todavía no hay garantías de que Estados Unidos se recupere por completo. Para que suceda, se necesita una mezcla de determinación, precaución y buena suerte. Sólo entonces, el país estará en mejores condiciones para pagar la factura exorbitante que le dejó su paso por el hospital.

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    1. CommentedJim Hejl

      AUSTIN - The prognosis for the patient in 2008 was one of protracted, subpar recovery. Everything has unfolded as expected. Recapitalization and deleveraging have occurred. Innovative government programs have been attempted. Politicians have postured. We continue to live on the brink of disaster.

      Thank you, Mr. El-Erian, for politely bringing into focus the issues we are faced with. Perhaps you might more forcefully present the concern, which we all share, that toying with the country’s economic well being for political advantage may snuff out the feeble recovery into which we are trying to breathe life.

      My fear is that your thoughtful language doesn’t urgently convey the direness of the situation. There seem to be many among us who hope that a little more economic pain may be played for political advantage. On the other hand, an ambulatory patient may be only a couple of heartbeats from a massive relapse.

    2. CommentedJonathan Lam

      Gamesmith94134: The American recovery

      I think Procyon Mukherjee gave the best of the short and long term progresses in recovery that “ the world is yet rein in on the absence of effective demand, while supply lines have to grapple with over-capacity”, and “expansionary policies could undermine the long term security of future generation”.

      It was all good when much of the increasing rise of the stock market that many shifted from the bond market, and the merger and acquisition continued. State government had cut education and others, but it raised fees and licenses adding higher cost of the operating business and cutting into the pools of investments. As for many companies, they have already maximized their capacity to growth because of the absence of effective demands; even Apple or HP is paying dividends and buying back its stocks since cash is becoming infinite to merger and acquisition. Did they want to buy royalty of their investors? It was expensive and bad for R&D.It could be a trend since the trade deficit is not improving nor employment is growing at a steadier rate. In my view, the present recovery is just another phenomenon of the reverse in cash flow after the EU debts resolution is not adequate based on its structural innovation; that ECB turn itself into insurer and not guaranteed.

      Perhaps, I am talking of the contraction of the budgetary policies which have already undermined the long term security of future generation. And I saw the ten year bond is coming to above the 2% and the inflation at 3-4%; but the inflation is not stopping yet till the reloading inventories of the goods from offshore like China and India; especially the jump to $106 on oil prices. I do not think the CPI or PPI would be not influenced by the inflation from afar; the ripple effect could be drastic for the redevelopment. Beside, the return of the US forces to America would jolt the unemployment back to 10-12% and the stock market will then suffer in a downfall in the summer or prior the election if the State governments lose its cool in raising taxes and cutting the investments.

      Therefore, I felt that American recovery up-beat is just circumstantial even though the real estate prices are more stable than a year ago; but it is still hard to pin down the bull market. Even many of the brokers cannot tell what is really up, or it was just secular bull market. Eventually, the devaluation or adjustment to price and make lower tax revenues and the State governments would pull the rug off the ground in raising the interest rates to its bonds. So, the intention of the FED to adjust its rates in 2014 may not be sufficient to stop further inflation after the build-up on the inventories from its imports. Once the markets begin to calculate on the interest rates and inflation rate, many see the inequality and imbalance to its currency. Perhaps, the present recovery is so fragile that a simple expose of unemployment or oil prices can crack the stock market which is running on emotions to escapade since “the world is yet rein in on the absence of effective demand, while supply lines have to grapple with over-capacity”.

      Personally, it is the turning point to recovery perceptively only if the interest rate is becoming rational to the reality of the economy, so is the exchange rate relatively to the the currencies of the world under the constraint of interest rate mutation. As much of the cash flow shift to The South, there will be a tight rope to walk for the FED if it only focuses on the liquidity or inflation and not the globalization of all trades.

      Another IPOD 3, I saw the no innovation but gimmicks. What else can they do other than cut price on IPOD2?

      May the Buddha bless you?

    3. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      It is truly a commendable job by the government and industry to bring back the economy on course at a time when the rest of the world is yet to rein in on the absence of effective demand, while supply lines have to grapple with over-capacity. The broader picture for America has to be framed with the caution that contraction related policies could deter the prospects of job growth, while expansionary policies could undermine the long term security of future generations that all of us desire. Between these two conflicting pressures the least that we could expect is a return to war mongering and the maximum we could hope for is the alignment of the polity towards goals that are not directed towards narrow self-interests that serve certain specific sections at the cost of the other.

      Procyon Mukherjee

    4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      Continuing the medical allegory, in my opinion the optimism is unfortunately unfounded.
      The patient was discharged from the hospital injected full of Morphine, and other placebo drugs, but without any attention given to the true illness, which is the false foundation and drive of the whole overproduction/over consumption, constant growth, profit accumulating economy and its supporting political and financial institutions.
      Moreover the American patient is not sick on its own, but just part of a serious contagious plague infecting all the other parts of the system.
      Today the US, Europe are patients running on pain relief drugs, living in inflated, unsustainable bubbles, and the emerging market countries, following the same path running into the same dead end with breakneck speed.
      Two principle points are coming out of this, considering how global and integral we have become, and how we are not in a crisis, but we are in a system failure:
      1. There is no such thing as American recovery, either the whole world economy recovers and works optimally, or we all fail, since as one of the Nobel laureate economists coined it, we are all sitting on the same boat.
      2. There is not even a slight chance for recovery until we find the root of the disease and start to cure that, which is building a completely new human system, based on necessity and resource based economy and mutually responsible and considerate governance with a supra national democratic system.

    5. CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

      Without first constructing the necessary public infrastructure in the modern information supply chain process, I believe there will be no America’s full recovery, because it will be almost impossible to create enough businesses and jobs to keep consumer spending at the desired level and revitalize the economy, no matter how powerful the economic policies or stimulus plans adopted. They might be able to fend off urgent problems for a time but could also create or accumulate unforeseen abnormalities in the market.

      Please see: “To have Prosperity or to have Decline, it depends on Your Choice” http://goo.gl/AeP9O.

      I believe the lack of info-based public supply chain infrastructure in the market is the real cause of the current economic crisis.

    6. CommentedPaul A. Myers

      Without structural reform, the US economy will stay in a slow-growth mode. Structural reform requires debate about specific measures:

      Infrastructure spending should aim at immediately improving the overall marginal productivity in the economy. Billions should be put into urban transportation infrastructure, waste water facilities, immediate energy saving improvements, etc. Projects like the California train-to-no where should be avoided, postponed, or cancelled.

      Big money should be put into making health care exchanges up and functioning in a matter of months, not years. Accessible low-cost policies should be subsidized and made broadly available. Subsidized policies should aim at facilitating real structural economic changes in the health care economy.

      Social investment should go to community colleges and four-year public colleges with an aim at building skills-based education. Avoid pumping millions into superstar professors at public universities. They have a place and time, but not now. Community college instructors are one of the great bargains of the current epoch. Community college vocational training should reach way back into the secondary and middle school age groups. Admit it: the K-12 education establishment has failed to provide vocational education to America's young. Don't waste time trying to "reform" public middle and high schools. Build new organizational structures.

      Spend public money on building things voters and taxpayers can see.

      Kiss the overseas wars goodbye. Bring the boys home.
      As for Middle East wars: repeat "never again."

    7. CommentedLuke Ho-Hyung Lee

      Without first constructing the necessary public infrastructure in the modern information supply chain process, I believe there will be no America’s full recovery, because it will be almost impossible to create enough businesses and jobs to keep consumer spending at the desired level and revitalize the economy, no matter how powerful the economic policies or stimulus plans adopted. They might be able to fend off urgent problems for a time but could also create or accumulate unforeseen abnormalities in the market.

      Please see: “To have Prosperity or to have Decline, it depends on Your Choice” http://goo.gl/AeP9O.

      I believe the lack of info-based public supply chain infrastructure in the market is the real cause of the current economic crisis.

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