City of London Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Fixing Fixed-Investment Incentives

No one can say for sure why business investment has not increased in recent years, even during periods of buoyant economic growth. But, contrary to the conventional wisdom, one can be sure that business leaders' collective fear of economic uncertainty is not the prime culprit.

LONDON – Back in February, I noted that the global economy at the end of 2016 was in a stronger cyclical position than most people had expected, given the political upheavals of the previous 12 months. That upward momentum carried through to the first quarter of 2017. According to the latest “nowcast”-type indicators, world GDP growth is exceeding 4% – perhaps the strongest performance seen since before the 2008 financial crisis.

Still, some observers – and not just chronic pessimists – have countered that the evidence remains anecdotal, and that it is impossible to predict how long the current economic moment will last. Indeed, there have been other periods in the long post-2008 recovery when growth returned, only to peter out quickly and become sluggish again.

To bolster long-term economic growth, business investment will have to increase. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. In Western economies in particular, non-residential fixed investment is precisely the factor that was missing in previous, short-lived cycles of acceleration.

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