The Political Economy of 2013

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Watching America’s leaders scramble in the closing days of 2012 to avoid a “fiscal cliff” that would plunge the economy into recession was yet another illustration of an inconvenient truth: messy politics remains a major driver of economic developments.

In some cases during 2012, politics was a force for good: consider Prime Minister Mario Monti’s ability to pull Italy back from the brink of financial turmoil. But, in other cases, like Greece, political dysfunction aggravated economic problems.

Close and defining linkages between politics and economics are likely to persist in 2013. Having said this, we should also expect much greater segmentation in terms of impact – and that the consequences will affect both individual countries and the global system as a whole.

In some countries – for example, Italy, Japan, and the United States – politics will remain the primary driver of economic-policy approaches. But elsewhere – China, Egypt, Germany, and Greece come to mind – the reverse will be true, with economics becoming a key determinant of political outcomes.

This duality in causation speaks to a world that will become more heterogeneous in 2013 – and in at least two ways: it will lack unifying political themes, and it will be subject to multi-speed growth and financial dynamics that imply a range of possible scenarios for multilateral policy interactions…

How politics and economics interact nationally and globally is one of the important questions for 2013 and beyond. There are three scenarios: good economics and effective politics provide the basis for a growing and more cooperative global economy; bad economics interact with dysfunctional politics to ruin the day; or the world muddles through, increasingly unstable, as a tug of war between economics and politics plays out, with no clear result or direction.

Part of the answer depends on what happens in three countries in particular – China, Germany, and the US. Their economic and political stability is essential to the well-being of a world economy that has yet to recover fully from the 2008 global financial crisis.

Current indications, albeit incomplete, suggest that the three will continue to anchor the global economy in 2013. That is the good news. The bad news is that their anchor may remain both tentative and insufficient to restore the level of growth and financial stability to which billions of people aspire.

Mohamed El-Erian pretty much speaks in moderate terms even when discussing immoderate and opportunist politicians. He’s a nice guy. Even for a NY Jets fan.

He’s worth listening to if for nothing else his experience within and without the boundaries of international economics. Between the IMF and PIMCO, politicians stand in line asking him to run for elective office. But, then, he’d have to spend even more time with politicians. Most of whom – I’m afraid – aren’t any better than the hyenas we have in Congress.

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