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The World Economy’s Shifting Challenges

NEW YORK – As 2013 comes to a close, efforts to revive growth in the world’s most influential economies – with the exception of the eurozone – are having a beneficial effect worldwide. All of the looming problems for the global economy are political in character.

After 25 years of stagnation, Japan is attempting to reinvigorate its economy by engaging in quantitative easing on an unprecedented scale. It is a risky experiment: faster growth could drive up interest rates, making debt-servicing costs unsustainable. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would rather take that risk than condemn Japan to a slow death. And, judging from the public’s enthusiastic support, so would ordinary Japanese.

By contrast, the European Union is heading toward the type of long-lasting stagnation from which Japan is desperate to escape. The stakes are high: Nation-states can survive a lost decade or more; but the EU, an incomplete association of nation-states, could easily be destroyed by it.

The euro’s design – which was modeled on the Deutsche Mark – has a fatal flaw. Creating a common central bank without a common treasury means that government debts are denominated in a currency that no single member country controls, making them subject to the risk of default. As a consequence of the crash of 2008, several member countries became over indebted, and risk premia made the eurozone’s division into creditor and debtor countries permanent.