An Unstable Economic Order?

LAGUNA BEACH – The retreat of the advanced economies from the global economy – and, in the case of the United Kingdom, from regional trading arrangements – has received a lot of attention lately. At a time when the global economy’s underlying structures are under strain, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whether by choice or necessity, the vast majority of the world’s economies are part of a multilateral system that gives their counterparts in the advanced world – especially the United States and Europe – enormous privileges. Three stand out.

First, because they issue the world’s main reserve currencies, the advanced economies get to exchange bits of paper that they printed for goods and services produced by others. Second, for most global investors, these economies’ bonds are a quasi-automatic component of portfolio allocations, so their governments’ budget deficits are financed in part by other countries’ savings.

The advanced economies’ final key advantage is voting power and representation. They command either veto power or a blocking minority in the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), which gives them a disproportionate influence on the rules and practices that govern the international economic and monetary system. And, given their historical dominance of these organizations, their nationals are de facto assured the top positions.