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What Are We Betting On?

LAGUNA BEACH – When I consider the prospects for the global economy and markets, I am taken aback by the extent to which the world has collectively placed a huge bet on three fundamental outcomes: a shift toward materially higher and more inclusive global growth, the avoidance of policy mistakes, and the prevention of market accidents. Though all three outcomes are undoubtedly desirable, the unfortunate reality is that they are far from certain – and bets on them without some hedging could prove exceedingly risky for current and future generations.

The first component of the bet – more inclusive global growth – anticipates continued economic recovery in the United States, with a 3% growth rate this year bolstered by robust wage growth. It also assumes China’s annual growth rate will stabilize at 6.5-7%, thereby enabling the risks posed by pockets of excessive leverage in the shadow-banking system to be gradually defused, even as the economy’s growth engines continue to shift from exports and public capital spending toward domestic consumption and private investment.

Another, more uncertain assumption underpinning the bet on more inclusive growth is that the eurozone and Japan will be able to escape the mire of low growth and avoid deflation, which, by impelling households and businesses to postpone purchasing decisions, would undermine already weak economic performance. Finally, the bet assumes that oil-exporting countries like Nigeria, Venezuela, and especially Russia will fend off economic implosion, even as global oil prices plummet.

These are bold assumptions – not least because achieving these outcomes would require considerable economic reinvention, extending far beyond rebalancing aggregate demand and eliminating pockets of excessive indebtedness. While the US and China are significantly better placed than others, most of these economies – in particular, the struggling eurozone countries, Japan, and some emerging markets – would have to nurture entirely new growth engines. The eurozone would also have to deepen integration.