Global growth cools, leaving scars of 2008 crisis unhealed | 2018-12-04

Global growth cools, leaving scars of 2008 crisis unhealed

4 December, 2018 12:00 AM printer

BEIJING: Only a few months ago, the world’s fortunes appeared increasingly robust. For the first time since the wealth-destroying agony of the global financial crisis, every major economy was growing in unison. So much for all that.

The global economy is now palpably weakening, even as most countries are still grappling with the damage from that last downturn. Many nations are mired in stagnation or sliding that way. Oil prices are falling and factory orders are diminishing, reflecting slackening demand for goods. Companies are warning of disappointing profits, sending stock markets into a frenetic bout of selling that reinforces the slowdown, report agencies.

Germany and Japan have both contracted in recent months. China is slowing more than experts anticipated. Even the United States, the world’s largest economy, and oft-trumpeted standout performer, is expected to decelerate next year as the stimulative effects of President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut wear off, leaving huge public debts.

The reasons for this turn run from rising interest rates delivered by the Federal Reserve and other central banks to the unfolding trade war unleashed by the Trump administration. The likelihood that Britain’s torturous exit from the European Union will damage trade across the English Channel has discouraged investment.

None of this amounts to a screaming emergency, or even a pronounced drop in commercial activity. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a think tank run by the world’s most advanced nations, recently concluded that the global economy would expand by 3.5 per cent next year, down from 3.7 per cent this year.

Yet in declaring that “the global expansion has peaked,” the brains at the OECD effectively concluded that the current situation is as good as it gets before the next pause or downturn. If this is indeed the high-water mark of global prosperity, that is likely to come as a shock to the tens of millions of people who have yet to recover from the devastation of the Great Recession.

Though the slowdown appears mild, it also holds the potential to intensify the widespread sense of grievance roiling many societies, contributing to the embrace of populists with autocratic impulses. In an age of lamentation over economic injustice, and with political movements on the march decrying immigrants as threats, weaker growth is likely to spur more conflict. Slower growth is not going to make anyone feel more secure about the prospect of robots replacing human hands, or jobs shifting to lower-wage lands.

“It’s just going to exacerbate the tensions that have led to the socioeconomic and political problems we have seen in the United States and parts of Europe,” said Thomas A Bernes, an economist at the Center for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian research institution. “Inequality is going to become even more pronounced.”

In Greece, Spain and Italy, the youth unemployment rate is stuck above 30 per cent. In Britain, the typical worker has not seen a pay raise in more than a decade, after accounting for inflation. South Africa’s economy is smaller today than it was in 2010, and now the country is ensnared in recession.