The World Economy’s Demolition Derby of Competing and Overlapping Economic Policy Making Entities

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING ITEMS

“Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked. …Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. ‘Those jobs aren’t coming back,’ he said, according to another dinner guest. … ‘We sell iPhones in over a hundred countries,’ a current Apple executive said. ‘We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible.'”

Charles Duhigg and Keith Bradsher, How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work, New York Times, January 21, 2012.

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“… we demonstrate that an individual country’s role in crisis spreading is not only dependent on its gross macroeconomic capacities, but also on its local and global connectivity profile in the context of the world economic network. … These results suggest that there can be a potential hidden cost in the ongoing globalization movement towards establishing less-constrained, trans-regional economic links between countries, by increasing the vulnerability of global economic system to extreme crises.”

Kyu-Min Lee, Jae-Suk Yang, Gunn Kim, Jaesung Lee, Kwang-Il Goh, In-mook Kim, Impact of the topology of global macroeconomic network on the spreading of economic crises, version 2, arXiv.org, April 2011.

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“Open feedback mechanisms ensure a supply chain’s ability to respond to a changing environment, but, in the case of financial supply chains, feedback mechanisms can amplify shocks until the whole system blows up. The Lehman Brothers collapse triggered just such an explosion … Since a complex network comprises linkages between many sub-networks, individual inefficiencies or weaknesses can have an impact on the viability of the whole.”

Andrew Sheng, Global Finance’s Supply-Chain Revolution, Project Syndicate, January 5, 2012.

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“Asian economies are exposed to China. Latin America is exposed to lower commodity prices (as both China and the advanced economies slow). Central and Eastern Europe are exposed to the eurozone. And turmoil in the Middle East is causing serious economic risks – both there and elsewhere …The US … faces considerable downside risks from the eurozone crisis.”

Nouriel Roubini, Fragile and Unbalanced in 2012, Project Syndicate, December 15, 2011.

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“Undoubtedly politicians should do a much better job of explaining to their constituents’ that what happens beyond the borders of their country-or city has implications for what happens inside their homes. … Despite all these problems, we have no choice: we must make local politics more attuned to global imperatives and make global finance more responsive to local needs.

Moisés Naím, The Dangerous Cocktail of Global Money and Local Politics, Financial Times, November 18, 2011, published on Carnegie Endowment for International Peace website.

COMMENTS

On paper it all sounds good: in a system of global free markets, nations, provinces, states, cities and corporations pit their resources and their people’s skills and smarts against each other. As unfettered competition sorts out comparative strengths and weaknesses, each competing economic unit finds its proper role in the world economy, makes its economic contribution efficiently, and earns its share of global wealth.  And the winner is … everybody!

The reality is a global demolition derby of competing and overlapping national, transnational, sub-national, and corporate economic policy making that routinely litters the planet with the wreckage of businesses, communities, families and even whole nations.

Many of us get our images of global competition from the world of sports, but those images are disastrously mistaken.  In the sports world participation is voluntary and competition is highly choreographed.  The umbrella of rules under which teams and individual athletes face each other is comprehensive and well enforced.  The wholeness of the game dominates the individual interests and actions of the competing teams and their players.  As a result, certain teams and players seldom become permanent victors and the consequences of losing are relatively benign.

Teams and players do not bring their own rules to the field of competition; teams and athletes with big differences in competitive resources are not pitted against each other (heavyweight fighters are not pitted against welterweight fighters and minor league baseball teams are not pitted against major league teams); the ratio of referees to players is very high and referees have the power to ensure that the choreographed competition designed into the game is not destroyed by rule breakers; all players get paid whether they win or lose; competitive encounters don’t leave losing teams and players permanently broken and maimed.

This is not the case for competition in the world economy.  Participation is not voluntary and competition is chaotic and brutal.  A comprehensive umbrella of rules does not exist and the rules that do exist are not well enforced.  Global social and economic goals cannot dominate the interests and actions of the thousands of governmental and private sector competitors.  Certain competitors win and maintain dominance over all others for many decades; other competitors become chronic losers.  The consequences of losing are often devastating and extremely long-term.

Competitors do bring their own rules to the global fields of competition.  The more powerful governments and corporations create rules to serve their own interests, regardless of consequences for the good of the whole or consequences for the losers, and then impose them on the less powerful governments and corporations.  Referees in the world economy are vastly outnumbered by competitors and they don’t have sufficient powers of enforcement to reign in rogue competitors.

For almost all the world’s peoples who count themselves as winners, or at least survivors, a consequence of this global demolition derby is chronic and frightening employment and income insecurity.   For losing nations and communities the consequences are often profoundly devastating: high levels of infrastructure loss, permanently broken social institutions, widespread and chronic unemployment and impoverishment, and enormous losses of life to famines, wars, preventable disasters and curable diseases.

Almost certainly, the world’s people will be much better off if we actually do make global economic competition much more like competition in sports.

What Happens In Vegas Doesn’t Stay In Vegas: National Policies Have Global Consequences

“Thus, national policies affecting capital flows can transmit multilaterally. This transmission has not been fully appreciated by national policymakers. Further, they may not have incentives to take full account of the cross-border effects of their policies. Looking ahead, the upward trend in the volume of capital flows can be expected to continue, making it ever more important to address the associated cross-border risks.”

The Multilateral Aspects of Policies Affecting Capital Flows, International Monetary Fund, October 13, 2011.

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“These two-way capital flows created a complex web among markets and institutions, some regulated and some not. Against this background, case studies were prepared for European banks and U.S. money market mutual funds (MMMFs) and for German banks and U.S. mortgage-backed securities (MBSs). Another important case is that of the near failure of the American International Group (AIG), which turned out to have complex and systemically cross-border linkages with other global institutions and markets.”

The Multilateral Aspects of Policies Affecting Capital Flows – Background Paper, International Monetary Fund, October 24, 2011.

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“Why might we expect a rise in U.S. bond yields to raise bond yields in other countries? First, openness of financial markets and arbitrage opportunities may mean that interest rate shocks are transmitted across economies. Second, a closer real integration of two economies may imply that a monetary policy shock or an inflationary shock in one economy may lead investors to expect similar developments in another, thus inducing a significant transmission of shocks in bond markets and money markets.”

Vivian Z. Yue and Leslie Shen, International Spillovers on Government Bond Yields: Are We All in the Same Boat?, August 01, 2011, Blog at website of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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“The trend toward greater diffusion of authority and power occurring for a couple decades is likely to accelerate because of the emergence of new global players, increasingly ineffective institutions, growth in regional blocs, advanced communications technologies, and enhanced strength of nonstate actors and networks.”

Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, National Intelligence Council, PDF version, November 2008.

———————–Comments———————–

The words in the quotes above are dispassionate, but the realities to which they refer get in our faces every day.  The mix of global economic processes and competitive and uncoordinated national policy making creates a bubbling soup of chaotic change.  (Go-it-alone economic policy making by sub-national and regional governments surely contribute to this soup of chaotic change as well.)

This environment makes decision making and planning very difficult and prone to error for the majority of the world’s investors and business owners and managers. It destabilizes the global world of work and damages the families and communities that depend on that world.  And it confounds policy experts because it is not possible to find logic in the illogical.

Moreover, this environment plays into the hands of the bad actors in the world economy, who promote and thrive on the high volumes of misunderstandings and errors that now plague economic and policy decision making at every level of organization in the world economy.

For more on this topic see my post, Fragmented and Weakened Global Governance Perpetuates the World’s Employment Crisis, September 9, 2011. Also see the topic Economics and Economic Policy (under U.S. Economic Policy heading at right).