What Lies Ahead in 2011?

NEW YORK – The global economy ends 2010 more divided than it was at the beginning of the year. On one side, emerging-market countries like India, China, and the Southeast Asian economies, are experiencing robust growth. On the other side, Europe and the United States face stagnation – indeed, a Japanese-style malaise – and stubbornly high unemployment. The problem in the advanced countries is not a jobless recovery, but an anemic recovery – or worse, the possibility of a double-dip recession.

This two-track world poses some unusual risks. While Asia’s economic output is too small to pull up growth in the rest of the world, it may be enough to push up commodity prices.

Meanwhile, US efforts to stimulate its economy through the Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing” may backfire. After all, in globalized financial markets, money looks for the best prospects around the world, and these prospects are in Asia, not the US.  So the money won’t go where it’s needed, and much of it will wind up where it’s not wanted – causing further increases in asset and commodity prices, especially in emerging markets.

Given the high levels of excess capacity and unemployment in Europe and America, quantitative easing is unlikely to trigger a bout of inflation. It could, however, increase anxieties about future inflation, leading to higher long-term interest rates – precisely the opposite of the Fed’s goal.