Paul Lachine

Global Imbalances and Domestic Inequality

Despite years of official talk about addressing global current-account imbalances, they remained one of the world’s main economic concerns in 2011. Indeed, some are increasing again, alongside inequality in many countries – a link that is no accident.

WASHINGTON, DC – Despite years of official talk about addressing global current-account imbalances, they remained one of the world’s main economic concerns in 2011. Global imbalances were, to be sure, smaller overall than before the crisis, but they did not disappear. Now some are increasing again, alongside inequality in many countries. That link is no accident.

One often hears calls for global rebalancing whereby emerging-market countries with payments surpluses – China is the most-often mentioned – would stimulate internal demand, so that advanced countries (the largest being the United States) could reduce their deficits and public debts with less threat to their economies’ recovery. The net foreign demand created by a reduction in balance-of-payments surpluses abroad would partly offset the weakening of public demand in the US and other high-debt countries as they tightened fiscal policy.

The story should not, however, be just about current-account deficits in advanced countries and surpluses in the emerging countries. Many emerging-market countries – including India, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey – actually run current-account deficits. There are also many advanced countries that run a current-account surplus: Germany’s has been well publicized since the eurozone crisis started, but Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden run surpluses as well.

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