Sunday, October 26, 2014

America’s Global Election

NEW YORK – Most people around the world will not be able to vote in the United States’s upcoming presidential election, even though they have a great deal at stake in the result. Overwhelmingly, non-US citizens favor Barack Obama’s re-election over a victory for his challenger, Mitt Romney. There are good reasons for this.

In terms of the economy, the effects of Romney’s policies in creating a more unequal and divided society would not be directly felt abroad. But, in the past, for better and for worse, others have often followed America’s example. Many governments quickly subscribed to Ronald Reagan’s mantra of deregulated markets – policies that eventually brought about the worst global recession since the 1930’s. Other countries that followed America’s lead have experienced growing inequality – more money at the top, more poverty at the bottom, and a weaker middle class.

Romney’s proposed contractionary policies – the attempt to reduce deficits prematurely, while the US economy is still frail – will almost surely weaken America’s already anemic growth, and, if the euro crisis worsens, it could bring on another recession. At that point, with US demand shrinking, the rest of the world would indeed feel the economic effects of a Romney presidency quite directly.

That raises the question of globalization, which entails concerted action on many fronts by the international community. But what is required with regard to trade, finance, climate change, and a host other areas is not being done. Many people attribute these failures partly to an absence of American leadership. But, while Romney may summon bravado and strong rhetoric, other world leaders would be unlikely to follow him, owing to the belief (correct in my judgment) that he would take the US – and them – in the wrong direction.

American “exceptionalism” may sell well at home, but it does poorly abroad. President George W. Bush’s Iraq war – arguably a violation of international law – showed that though America spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, it could not pacify a country with less than 10% of its population and less than 1% of its GDP.

Moreover, it turned out that US-style capitalism was neither efficient nor stable. With most Americans’ incomes stagnating for a decade and a half, it was clear that the US economic model was not delivering for most citizens, whatever official GDP data said. Indeed, the model blew up even before Bush left office. Together with the abuses of human rights under his administration, the Great Recession – the predictable (and predicted) consequence of his economic policies – did as much to weaken America’s soft power as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did to weaken the credibility of its military power.

In terms of values – namely, the values of Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan – things are not much better. For example, every other advanced country recognizes the right to accessible health care, and Obama’s Affordable Care Act represents a significant step toward that goal. But Romney has criticized this effort, and has offered nothing in its place.

America now has the distinction of being among the advanced countries that afford the least equality of opportunity to their citizens. And Romney’s drastic budget cutbacks, targeted at the poor and middle class, would further impede social mobility. At the same time, he would expand the military, spending more money on weapons that do not work against enemies that do not exist, enriching defense contractors like Halliburton at the expense of desperately needed public investment in infrastructure and education.

While Bush is not on the ballot, Romney has not really distanced himself from the Bush administration’s policies. On the contrary, his campaign has featured the same advisers, the same devotion to higher military spending, the same belief that tax cuts for the rich are the solution to every economic problem, and the same fuzzy budget math.

Consider, for example, the three issues that are at the center of the global agenda mentioned earlier: climate change, financial regulation, and trade. Romney has been silent on the first, and many in his party are “climate deniers.” The world cannot expect genuine leadership from Romney there.

As for financial regulation, while the recent crisis has highlighted the need for stricter rules, agreement on many issues has proven to be elusive, partly because the Obama administration is too close to the financial sector. With Romney, though, there would be no distance at all: metaphorically speaking, he is the financial sector.

One financial issue on which there is global agreement is the need to close down offshore bank havens, which exist mainly for purposes of tax evasion and avoidance, money laundering, and corruption. Money does not go to the Cayman Islands because sunshine makes it grow faster; this money thrives on the absence of sunshine. But, with Romney unapologetic about his own use of Cayman banks, we are unlikely to see progress even in this area.

On trade, Romney promises to launch a trade war with China, and to declare it a currency manipulator on Day One – a promise that gives him little wiggle room. He refuses to note the renminbi’s large real appreciation in recent years, or to acknowledge that, while changes in China’s exchange rate may affect the bilateral trade deficit, what matters is America’s multilateral trade deficit. A stronger renminbi would simply mean a switch in the US from China to lower-cost producers of textiles, apparel, and other goods.

The irony – again lost on Romney – is that other countries are accusing the US of currency manipulation. After all, one of the main benefits of the Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing” – perhaps the only channel with a significant effect on the real economy – derives from the depreciation of the US dollar.

The world has a lot riding on America’s election. Unfortunately, most people who will be affected by it – almost the entire world – will have no influence on the outcome.

Read more from our "America Votes" Focal Point.

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    Please consider this shopping list or wish list for the future:

    1) Restore the Chairmanship of the Council of Economic Advisors to a Cabinet level position with the intent of building the economic literacy of voters and making policy that makes sense;

    2) Make a clear unflinching assessment of the financial health of the US financial sector including an unflinching assessment of its ability to withstand a run on the banks (Keeping in mind that we are still in a liquidity trap which seems to be inexplicable);

    3) In the style of the new economic history, create a reliable assessment of the consequences of a second financial crisis and global bank failures meaning estimates of where the Second Great Depression would leave us (Assuming the world can deal with knowing the stakes of the game we have been playing):

    4) Ask that President Obama award the Medal of Freedom to Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, and Ben Bernanke for their courage and decisiveness during our blackest hours in the fall of 2008;

    5) Demand that the Justice Department to initiate grand jury investigations of all of the major banks who participated in the financial collapse of 2008, the rating agencies who were paid to rate toxic assets AAA, and the Government regulators who failed to do anything to stop the destruction;

    6) Make economic policy and put it before Congress, and then hold the Republicans in Congress accountable for making a different policy on their own;

    a) Work with the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts to propose and pass new regulation to strengthen Dodd-Frank;

    b) Develop and propose a new stimulus package and send it to Congress and force the House Republicans to accept it or take responsibility for not passing it;

    c) Demand that the Congress pass a new debt ceiling or take full responsibility for the consequences; and

    7) Propose and insist on legislation to return our Country to a non-regressive tax structure while remembering that a regressive tax structure is impossible in a democracy where voters are adequately represented and that taxation without representation is tyranny.

  2. CommentedTed Peters

    A weak and ineffectual United States will mean that the world is bereft of leadership and moral standards. This is the situation in Syria and Afganistan, where only the very strong and very ruthless survive. Obama has proven entirely feckless when it comes to leadership (from behind?). We may well be heading for another dark ages... or worse, the world of Mad Max.

  3. CommentedVan Poppel charles

    I understand Mr Stiglitz is an oppnent to Mr Romney as future USA president;but this is not a reason to advising US people going to live in russia or china; the Reagan deregulations of governmental regulations introduced to combat the 1930 great depression and administer the war 1940/45 , nevertheless has brougt the sovjet empire to his knees;the actual economic regression is not the fault of american capitalismbut but should be attributed to the stupidity of economists; they should have known that hubris is folloxed by nemesis and defeat; even you mr Stiglitz never proposed during the elysian economic growth during the years 2003/07 to apply the Keynesian principle " the boom, not the slump is the time for austerity; and be not afraid: if the US government should embrace deflationary policies, enhancing unemployment with rising poverty, it could be confronted with social upheaval and be overwhelmed with requests which they will hate more than the simple remedies for the moment.

  4. CommentedPrasanna Srinivasan

    Its show time now and we'll know who's won. However, Mr Obama is on record with a lot of protectionist rhetoric (outsourcing, manufacturing jobs etc), so maybe you shouldn't consider your personal views as "global opinion". Historically, things have moved better between the US and India (particularly on issues of defence, terrorism etc) with a Republican President (whatever be the reason) than with a Democrat.

  5. CommentedKaleem Alam

    I am a non-American. Mr. Romney doesn't seem to have a stand on anything. He is willing to utter anything and everything that can get him edge. I am sure he is not going to do anything he has promised. He would be more than a fool to go for any type of war including trade war with China. And if he wins, I would be left questioning American intelect.

    Kaleem Alam

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    When America goes to vote today, we know it would be a tough battle of ideologies that have an eternal divide; the fathers of the constitution wanted a four legged platform, where democracy by discussion supposedly was to function- the judiciary, the two legislative wings and the executive authority in the Presidency to be intertwined with the advocacy of a suffrage. We are here dealing with just one, the Presidency, in our discussions, trust that the other three is not kept out of sight for the true functioning of the government.
    For the developing world, either way we see the diminutive spell of influence to continue, as China, more than the U.S. still takes the path of ascendency, although without a song and dance. It is just another decade away that the next change of leadership in Beijing would find more media space than several bouts of U.S. presidential elections.

    Procyon Mukherjee

  7. CommentedPaul Jefferson

    China's yuan has appreciated only 3.5% per year for the past two years. That is not enough, considering how low Chinese wages are, and how many jobs and business America has lost to China. China should be declared a currency manipulator -- along with all other countries that peg their currencies to the US dollar. The smaller manipulators will behave better only when they know they will not be undercut by China. Romney has this much right.

    In contrast, Obama's weak China policy has clearly been a failure. Yet I support Obama, because I cannot trust Romney, after his frequent position changes, outright lies, and massive funding by the ultra-rich.

  8. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I am one of those non-Americans who cannot vote, but I tell you why I would vote for Romney instead of Obama.
    Today the world is in turmoil, humanity is in crisis at every front.
    But the general attitude of the leaders and professionals in office is to kick the can, to sweep the real problems under the carpet, nobody dares to show their true colours, everybody tries to be politically correct, nice and gentleman-like.
    This fake-liberal wishy-washy attitude is killing us because we are smearing pain relief ointment over all our wounds and by the time we truly reveal the disease it will be too late.
    This is true to the economy, to the financial system, to the geo-political flash-points all over the world, or to our relationship with the natural environment. The whole world is in chaos but we pretend to be in control.
    In such a scenario putting "a cat among the pigeons" is better, even if first it creates scary, frightening scenarios, but at least it would dust off the fake cover and we would truly see what the problems are, who is who and what is what.
    Only when we know the true diagnosis of a disease, when we know where things are broken can we start talking to each other and administer the cure. Today the world has the necessary interconnections and strength to make it work, provided we are not afraid to tackle the problems.
    We have to look into the mirror so we do not think are so beautiful.
    Romney has a better chance of showing the mirror than the "cool" President Obama.

  9. CommentedNabaraj Gautam

    The US election always creates vibration around the world. The media focuses only two candidates.... Do USA following multi-party democracy or only promoting dualism in political system? They are just interchanging leadership in 2 tenures between Democratic and Republican which can be stated as political syndicate. So US citizens should start to search beyond these. Anyway this time, all the best to OBAMA.

  10. CommentedAndrés Arellano Báez

    This election should not be Obama Vs Romney, It should be "Obama And Romney" Vs "The Other Candidates". There is no real difference between Obama and Romney. The real change for US are in the "Other Candidates".

  11. CommentedCamouflage Artist

    People vote for Obama because he is cool. Once he is re-elected we can tax the rich. We’ll start with Michael Moore and Arianna Huffington. Let’s tax them at 75% like they do in France.
    Tax the Rich at :
    Camouflage – the Famous Detroit Abstract Artist

  12. CommentedJose Luis Gambande

    After reading this I was tempted to questioning because the feeling that I was reading a piece of political advertising and not a dispassionate analysis of the future consequences of the U.S. election.

    To begin let me clarify two things: first, nobody can doubt even one minute on the professional qualifications of Mr. Stiglitz, impressive qualifications and brilliance; second, I am not sympathetic to Republicans and feel much closer to Obama than Romney. If I were an American citizen probably vote for the current president, but does not mean we get carried away by emotions in what should be a cold analysis of the situation.

    Mr. Stiglitz associated Ronald Reagan deregulation policies with the seeds of the 2008 financial crisis. This may be fine as a campaign slogan, but is overkill on the historical point of view. In the thirty years between Reagan reforms and the 2008 financial crisis many Democrat administrations could have detected the germ and cure the disease. And they did not.

    It seems that toxic mortgages and Mr. Summers's 1998 opposition to regulating financial derivatives and their support for the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act have nothing to do with the crisis. Mr. Summers was Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and Director of National Economic Council under President Obama. In any case, financial markets deregulation fans seem to be on both sides, not just Romney.

    It's easy to endorse Mr. Stiglitz's arguments about the dire armament policies of President Bush and his unjustified and unsuccessful wars, and his favoritism with the military-industrial complex. Everybody agree with the American failure to impose democracy in countries where they deposed dictators. But it seems too light to assume without further argument that Mr. Romney will follow the same paths. Mr. Stiglitz knows that President Bush inherited a country with a surplus in its public accounts after the successful Clinton Presidency, which made it easy to engage in military adventures as world police officer. Today, the U.S. fiscal situation is differentand its precariousness, while acknowledged by Mr. Stiglitz, would prevent any attempt to re-engage in wars, even for something as necessary as oil. Even if wanted to, a Republican president would not embark on such adventures.

    Accusing Mr. Romney for using tax havens to put their money, is an argument for a campaign speech. Mr. Stiglitz must remember that what is not prohibited by law is allowed, and can not be an argument for voting against a candidate. It is in this kind of arguments that I would notice an "excessive enthusiasm" in the article in favor of Democrats, closer to the visceral rejection by Republicans than to the cold analysis of a great academic.

    Finally, replacement of the armamentistic race that Bush has done, and provoked so much damage to the world, by selective drone attacks that kill innocent and suspected terrorists, which are not accountable for being covert, does not seem to be a change politics in the sense of the search for global consensus and peaceful solutions to regional conflicts involving U.S.

    This demonization of candidate Romney appears to come from the stomach, not the brain. By contrast, it seems that in the administration of President Obama all the news are good, and that is not true in the last four years. The broken promises of candidate Obama on immigration reform, which extend an internal conflict that has become chronic, is one of them. The closure ofGuantanamo prison, with all that implies of illegality and human rights violation, is another. Seek for political consensus has not been a key element in his Presidency, as promised. Hope we all feel when it opened its mandate traveling to Egypt to show that was a different President, is gone for the sake of pragmatism in relations with Israel.

    As Mr. Stiglitz said, future affected by the election of U.S. President cannot say a word or influence the outcome. However, we care what happens because we know it will affect us. The vision and the arguments of the article seem destined to make us believe that the "demon" of Romney opposes to the "angel" of Obama. My opinion is much less optimistic. I think Obama will win the election, but his political future actions will be much closer to Romney ideas than to his promises of 2008 campaign.

  13. CommentedWayne Barker

    Just read a commentary on this site about the decline of India and how the reforms of the 90's (following Reagan's lead) led to advancement and prosperity. Contrast that to the current Indian malaise related to excessive government corruption and government-insider / business cronyism. Further contrast that to the extreme corruption of China's leaders (many of whom have accumulated many billions of dollars in riches--on a "pauper's" salary).

    What path should the world follow--the successful path of freedom and less government or the failed path of government control, cronyism and corruption.

  14. CommentedWilliam Wallace

    @Marc Sargen,

    You'd best review GAO data for 1980-2010 or so. Cutting taxes without cutting spending for 30 years, plus recent off-budget major wars, plus TAARP will give you the real, trackable causes of the deficit. Vastly lowered tax revenue following the meltdown these fiscal policies led to is another major reason for the current deficit. Go ahead, blame the poor soul who walked into the china shop just after the bulls had their way, but that is partisan and counter-factual.

  15. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

    We don't know Mitt Romney but he seems more moderate and principled than current President Obama. I'd say change is a good thing. The world mostly benefits from US military spending. Here I trust Mitt Romney to continue international interests of the US and also take the Transatlantic Alliance seriously, and confront Iran and Syria. Ronald Reagan was a friend of Europe, one of my idols.

  16. CommentedUttam Sen

    How do people deal with this situation, particularly in a country like India? The received wisdom among the middle and upper classes is overwhelmingly that they never had it so good, fobbing off the mischief of deregulation as a left-wing myth. This condition is exacerbated by literature that liberalization and “reforms” have been setting the record on mismanagement straight since 1991 and that what is required is more of the same viz. liberalization or removal of controls, some of which is admittedly desirable, but potentially dangerous as an instrument for selfish gain. Prof Stiglitz seems to suggest that similar abandon in the event of a particular electoral outcome in the US will trigger a global recession rather than the self-fulfilling prophesy of prosperity. His caveat has hopefully spread wide and fast enough to stave off disaster!

  17. CommentedKodjo Adadevoh

    Professor Stiglitz, it is really refreshing to read your eloquent assessment of where this great nation stands and the two options the lie before us with respect to the type of leadership that we need to get us through the challenges that lie ahead. I am often perplexed by how ignorant people are of the extent of the economic crisis that we all experienced in 2008 (1 in 80 year event) and how close we were to falling off the cliff. I am also perplexed by how uninformed people are about the structural problems we face and how a total change in course is required. Addressing the educational system, energy independence, the debt and deficit problems and the growing gap between the rich and the poor (via tax reform) are critical elements to getting this great nation back on track.

  18. CommentedMarc Sargen

    Reduce the deficits prematurely? When would it be better? The deficit is large because of a stimulus. Whether you agree that it has helped or not, the spending has happened & it is time to go back to pre-stimulus levels.
    Let's face it. We shot our wad & now everything is out of balance. We are addicted to the drug of loose money & fiscal spending & we no longer get that high. Because we are so out of balance, every situation is a crisis.
    Now is the time for us to face the truth that we have hit the limits of what we can do, take the pain, & cut back to what the economy can afford so it has the ability to face the next situation without it becoming a "crisis".

      CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

      Hi Marc,

      As I had made some assertions in my previous reply to you, but did not have a ready link to prove them, I felt I owed you this link.

      My assertion:

      "Without the stimulus, there would have been a full-blown and long-lasting depression.

      "Without continuing stimulus, the anemic growth forecast for the U.S. next year would completely disappear.

      "Although an over-simplification, some might say that the overly optimistic >1.6% growth forecast for next year is only due to the present stimulus spending (remove the stimulus and remove the growth)."

      Hopefully, you will find this link useful. Best regards, JBS

      CommentedJohn Brian Shannon

      Hi Marc,

      Without the stimulus, there would have been a full-blown and long-lasting depression.

      Without continuing stimulus, the anemic growth forecast for the U.S. next year would completely disappear.

      Although an over-simplification, some might say that the overly optimistic >1.6% growth forecast for next year is only due to the present stimulus spending (remove the stimulus and remove the growth).

      To lower the deficit now, would easily choke off and reverse any forward economic progress -- almost all economists agree on this point regarding America's present economic situation.

      I agree with your statement; "Because we are so out of balance, every situation is a crisis."

      The economist John Maynard Keynes suggested that "the time to pay down debt was during periods of growth" -- for obvious reasons.

      Government debt is merely accumulated deficits.

      When nations pay down their debt during periods of growth, this automatically re-balances the economy and allows leaders more maneuvering room at the onset of the next recession.

      For example, not so long ago, the U.S. economy was running record surpluses. Surpluses which could have been used to pay down government debt and to 'bank' for a rainy-day.

      With low government debt, no deficits and running surpluses, the U.S. government might never see a recession. But, if it did, such minor annoyances could rightly be taken care of with ease if they maintained a balanced economy.

      Instead of borrowing money at interest from increasingly reluctant lenders, the U.S. could have drawn on multi-billions or low trillions of such 'cash on hand', to stimulate the economy fast and hard at the first sign of recession -- effectively nipping any recession in the bud.

      With high government debt, high but necessary deficits and their resulting debt load, you are right, every situation becomes a crisis.

      Canada has already gone through this entire exercise and it succeeded spectacularly.

      Some information for you here:

      Best regards, JBS

  19. CommentedS.Mahmud Ali

    Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, possibly represent the two faces of the same coin - that of America's leadership of the international security, economic and political-diplomatic systems. For much of the world, US approaches to the lands beyond the water's edge will not change drastically irrespective of who occupies the Oval Office on January 20, 2013. However shrill the rhetoric before the polls, US Presidents - with a few exceptions, such George W. Bush in his first term - have a way of approaching a pragmatic centre once in office.

    While the two men bring to the table almost diametrically opposite perspectives on domestic policies, especially with regard to the relationships between the citizen and the state, they are united in their insistence on the perpetuation of US primacy at the systemic level.

    The only apparent difference between their global perspective on US systemic leadership is in the manner in which that leadership has to be exercised. Mitt Romney appears to believe that at 4 per cent of the US GDP under his command, defence expenditure will secure for America global pre-eminence on the strength of America's lethal destructive power. Obama appears to believe that lethal force alone may not serve America's purposes in an increasingly complex and intricately inter-linked milieu, and that America must first regenerate its domestic capacity to rebuild its national substance before it devotes some of it abroad. But both of them are committed to securing America's planetary primacy into the indefinite future.

    Given that fundamentally shared vision of America's broad role in the world, non-voting non-American observers may be forgiven for watching the campaign and waiting for the outcome of the elections with muted trepidation rather than an alternating combination of febrile ecstasy and unmitigated melancholia.

  20. CommentedSimon Gatt

    Surely Maggie Thatcher matched Reagan's deregulatory zeal, and possibly predated his campaigns. This was not just an American thing.

  21. CommentedMark Slater

    Why are we having this discussion about the US election when the Chinese are about to switch leaders? Aren't we asking for a say about Xi Jinping?
    For that matter, what say do Americans get about the President of the European Union, German Chancellor or Russia President? Answer none. Yet all are very significant in global terms.

  22. CommentedGregory Kruse

    Just an anecdotal comment: As an almost life-long expatriate, I found myself, for the first time in my life, embarrassed to be an overseas American during the Bush administration. My international friends' and colleagues' views of the US, its role in the world and the extent to which America lives up to its own espoused values, deteriorated dramatically during the Bush administration.

    Despite his shortcomings and his failures to deliver on very ambitious campaign promises, President Obama has done a great deal to re-establish the credibility of the US and what it stands for during his administration. I see this in my every day interactions with people outside the US.

    It would be a shame to lose the momentum the President has built up. And it would undermine efforts to promote real American values abroad.

  23. CommentedChris Gedge

    Godfrey, I think you may be buying in to the cult of celebrity. Even if it is true that "the majority of the world does not even know who Mitt Romney is" the effects of his presidency could have global consequences. Prof Stiglitz makes the claim that Gov. Romney's policies are likely to be bad for the US and bad for large swathes of the rest of the world. The sufferers do not have to know from where or by whom their pain was caused. But, rest assured, they'll feel it.

  24. CommentedGodfrey Barborous

    Actually, most people will not be affected by the outcome at all. The majority of the world does not even know who Mitt Romney is. Even though the author creates a negative and pessimistic tone, his effect of elevating the United States to this level of importance should be questioned.

    What is more "unfortunate" about the election is the fact that almost a majority of Americans themselves do not vote. Instead of worrying about the global, perhaps Stiglitz should address the root cause of this problem at home.

  25. CommentedThomas Haynie

    With all of our military spending I’m constantly reminded of the book “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy where he asserts that exceeding a threshold in military spending tends to precede the end of great nations. Namely the Militarized state in the constant war time economy is a nation killer.

    I’m not an ancient history academic but if memory serves the Spartans were famous as a military power in their region. Feared to be sure, they were also famous for being rather shallow on the intellect and culture contribution to the Greek world (outside of war). They didn’t sell themselves as thinkers but prided in being excellent killers. How long did their society last in comparison to the other Greek States?

  26. CommentedCaitlin Casement

    US policies as determined by the President can have a huge and direct impact on the lives of people all over the world. In addition, another president like W would demonstrate our lack of respect for our increasing role in the world. We can't be just about ourselves anymore--we have global responsibilities that matter.