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Meine Welt von morgen: Fabrizio Zilibotti

21. April 2009

Was kommt nach der Krise? Die FTD fragt prominente Ökonomen. Im WirtschaftsWunder finden Sie die Antworten in Original-Länge und -sprache. Heute: Fabrizio Zilibotti (44), Wirtschaftsprofessor an der Uni Zürich. Der italienische Ökonom ist zudem Chefredakteur des „Journal of the European Economic Association“ und einer der Direktoren der „Review of Economic Studies“.

 

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* Has the time of the United States as the world’s leading economic power come to an end?

It is unlikely that the United States will lose its leadership altogether, but we may move towards a more pluralistic world. The economic world leadership of the US already came under question in the late 1970s and early 1980s when it appeared as if the long wave of convergence of Western European countries  – especially Germany – and Japan which had started after the end of WW II, would lead these countries to catch-up and even leapfrog the leader. However, the American economy proved a renewed innovative capacity during the 1990s, and since then we have witnessed a long period of economic divergence across OECD countries that restored a robust leadership of the United States. Economists have even coined a new term, the „Great Moderation“, to refer to the capacity of the US economy to grow fast without incurring in the economic fluctuations that had been endemic earlier on. Clearly, there has been an  exaggerated optimism. It is interesting that even before the start of the crisis there were signs of reversion, with Germany showing the promise a more bust performance, and the US somewhat losing steam. It cannot be ruled out that after the crisis the world economic growth will have multiple engines.

 

* In 2020, will China be the world’s economic superpower, or will it have collapsed just like Japan and other former would-be economic powers of the world?

We should not expect China to collapse. China will be the largest economy in 2020 but its technological gap will be far from being closed by then. Fast growth is likely to continue (perhaps at a less spectacular rate) until Chinese people will have reached living standards that are comparable to those in the Western world and other East Asian countries. China will not become the sole world superpower, but its political and economic influence will continue to grow. There are obviously some questions as to the ability of this economic giant to retain its internal cohesion. Political and economic institutions will have to  undergo reforms: as I argued in my research, institutions that guarantee  success at an earlier stage of the process of technological convergence may  become a barrier to economic growth at a later stage, unless they are reformed.

 

* What economic policy strategy would you recommend to the incoming US president?

The images of the crisis in the US of recent days show the weakness of a system where the safety net is so low. The unemployment rate is growing but is still below the 10% level that European countries have tolerated for many years without suffering so devastating social effects. So, on the one hand, I believe that the US should increase its system of social protection. On the other hand, I am not convinced that a large fiscal stimulus will per se solve the crisis. There are several risks, and the Japanese experience shows that old-style keynesianism is not set to succeed. At the same time, to the extent to which government spending in the US is targeted to create more social protection  health insurance, unemployment benefit) and to renew the public infrastructure, whose state is appalling for European standards, it can benefit the country both in the short and the medium run. What I fear is that public money is spent on the introduction of large subsidies targeted to firms and sectors that may instead be efficient to let downsize. It is better to help displaced workers to survive through the crisis and move to more efficient activities after the recovery than to keep alive white elephants. More generally, I become worried when I hear so much emphasis on the level of the spending relative to its targets.

 

* What is the most radical change in our global economic system that you would like to see?

I would like to see a shared commitment to make the high economic growth of poorer countries to be compatible with the global environmental sustainability.  This requires more sacrifice from the industrialized countries, and more  responsibility and cooperation from China and other developing nations.This  discussion is difficult by its nature and was largely boycotted by the previous US administration. Hope comes from the very different attitude displayed by the Obama administration on this and other issues. But I am worried that the salience of the economic crisis makes countries forget their commitment to avoid an environmental disaster.

 

* What sort of major step would most likely prevent the most disastrous effects of global warming?

There is no magic recipe. Controlling and enforcing agreements is a daunting task. But if international cooperation and trust is low, it becomes impossible. So, the improvement in the relationships among the major players (the United States, European Union, Russia, China and India) can be of major help. Creating empowered well-funded international agencies may be important.

 

* Would it be better to regulate capital markets as heavily as before 1980 again?

No. This would simply be a mistake driven by a simplistic interpretation of what is happening. In any case, it would not work, and would pave the way to the  proliferation of inefficient activities to roundabout regulations.

 

* Will globalisation suffer a major setback in the next few years? I see some risks.

In words, everybody claims that no barriers to international trade should be raised. But as soon as national governments step in to help national firms and sectors (with the exception of banks, where this is unavoidable) we have effective protectionism. If we get deep into this route, the outcome will be large inefficiencies and a burden on the speed of future recovery. However, so many values are by now universally shared about the virtues of open economies, that in the end I am optimistic that we will not see a breakdown of world trade such as the one we experienced in the 1930s.

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