A Gathering Consensus About the Limits to National Economic Policy?


Despite the subsequent decision of the Group of 20 in 2009 on the need for rules to supervise what is now a globally integrated financial system, world leaders have spent the last five years in retreat, resorting to unilateral actions that have made a mockery of global coordination. Already, we have forgotten the basic lesson of the crash: Global problems need global solutions. And because we failed to learn from the last crisis, the world’s bankers are carrying us toward the next one.

Gordon Brown, Stumbling Toward the Next Crash, New York Times, Published: December 18, 2013.  (Gordon Brown, a Labour member of the British Parliament, is a former chancellor of the Exchequer and prime minister.)


Nothing endangers globalization more than the yawning governance gap – the dangerous disparity between the national scope of political accountability and the global nature of markets for goods, capital, and many services – that has opened up in recent decades. When markets transcend national regulation, as with today’s globalization of finance, market failure, instability, and crisis is the result.

Dani Rodrik, National Governments, Global Citizens, Project Syndicate, March 12, 2013.  (Dani Rodrik is Professor of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.)


Around the world, policies, technologies, and extended learning processes have combined to erode barriers to economic interaction among countries. Pick any indicator: trade relative to global GDP, capital flows relative to the global capital stock, and so forth – all are rising.

But economic policies are set at the national level, and, with a few notable exceptions like trade negotiations and the tracking of terrorist funding and money laundering, policymakers set goals with a view to benefiting the domestic economy. And these policies (or policy shifts) are increasingly affecting other economies and the global system, giving rise to what might be called “policy externalities” – that is, consequences that extend outside policymakers’ target environment.

Michael Spence, The Blurry Frontiers of Economic Policy, Project Syndicate, September 19, 2013.  (Michael Spence, a Nobel laureate in economics, is Professor of Economics at NYU’s Stern School of Business, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Academic Board Chairman of the Fung Global Institute in Hong Kong.)


In certain quarters of American society, one can find rejoicing over the condition of the U.S. economy.  Just today, the Federal Reserve began its long anticipated tapering of its bond buying program for stimulating the U.S. economy, citing enough economic progress to do so.

Given the quotes above, one has to wonder, however, whether a small change in Fed policy in the U.S. will have much effect one way or the other.   The bond buying program is only one in a global sea of public policy mechanisms that affect the U.S. economy.  And some of those other policy mechanisms are being manipulated by actors in the world economy that are quite powerful – the EU, China, the BRICS nations.

It must also be pointed out that the effects of the Fed’s decisions are not contained by U.S. political borders.  Those consequences are spread across the world economy through the global financial system, and some or many nations will be harmed by those effects.  Actions bring reactions and we do not know whether those reactions will conspire with Fed policy to improve employment and incomes in the U.S. or conspire against Fed policy to further damage employment and income growth in the U.S.

See my Blog Posts under Global Economic Governance for more sources and comments.