America the Reckless

MILAN – The world’s developed countries face growth and employment shortfalls, while developing countries are confronting huge challenges in adapting to increasingly volatile capital flows while adjusting their growth patterns to sustain economic development. And yet America’s political dysfunction has come to marginalize these (and other) crucial issues. It is all very difficult to fathom.

The threat of a default on US sovereign debt has been lifted – for now – but the deeper problem persists: For America’s Republicans and Democrats, negotiating a fiscal grand compromise appears to carry higher costs than playing a game of brinkmanship, even at the risk of default. Surely this involves a collective miscalculation of the longer-term costs.

Setting aside the external impact on the global economy, the damage to domestic stability and growth from anything other than a short-term technical default would be so severe that the political system (and both parties with it) could not withstand the backlash. Domestic and foreign holders of US Treasury bills would regard a deliberate, unforced default as a betrayal of trust.

Some are reassured by this fact, because it suggests that a real default will not happen. And that means that the fragile global economy, dependent (for now) on a single country for its main reserve currency, can withstand America’s political shenanigans.