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Meine Welt von morgen: Jean Pisani-Ferry

2. Juni 2009

Was kommt nach der Krise? Die FTD fragt prominente Ökonomen. Heute: Jean Pisani-Ferry (56). Der französische Ökonom lehrt Volkswirtschaftslehre in Paris, berät Frankreichs Präsident Nicolas Sarkozy sowie die EU-Kommission und leitet den Brüsseler Thinktank Bruegel. Im WirtschaftsWunder finden Sie die Antworten in Original-Länge und -sprache.



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

No. True, the crisis originated in the US and confidence in the US economic system has therefore been shaken. It has made the arrogance of the Bush-era unbearable and has accelerated the emergence of a multi-polar world. Even the Clinton-era notion of ‘the indispensable nation’ sounds ironic now.

But the crisis has also confirmed that, for better or worse, developments in the US determine developments in the rest of the world. For all the talks about decoupling, no other country or continent has been able to substitute the US as a driver of world growth. Europe, in particular, has proved once again that in spite of its size and the sophistication of its economy it is not capable of becoming an autonomous growth engine. Seen from Beijing or Mumbai, the world after the crisis is perceived as being more dependent on the US, not less.

* 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?

Neither. China has become the indispensable partner and it is set to become one of the two or three poles of the world economy, together with the US and perhaps with Europe. But its weaknesses are all too apparent and in an unstable world economy, China’s “peaceful rise”, to quote the Chinese concept, is unlikely to be smooth. It has not yet engineered the transition from an export-dependent growth model to a balanced model. Providing jobs to the masses from the countryside remains a huge challenge, the financial system is fragile, demography is awful, and there are permanent tensions between the centre and the provinces, to name just a few challenges. Also, China is not yet ready for the world leadership role called for by the proponents of the G20. So the rise of China is  inevitable but there are likely to be crises and setbacks on the road.  

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

The short term priorities are clear: to ward off depression and to repair the financial system. The new administration has been acting forcefully on the first front but less on the second one, essentially for political reasons I think.

For the longer term the vision of a better regulated, more multilateral, more environment-friendly US that borrows from Europe some of the traits of the social market economy is welcome. To this, Barack Obama needs to add a framework for fiscal sustainability. If he makes progress on these five fronts, or even only on most of them, he will have produced a policy realignment of historic magnitude. But he has yet to move from vision to policy formulation, let alone implementation, and this has barely begun.   

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

A global carbon tax. This would be an unequivocal indication that the international community recognises the intensity of interdependence, and is the best way to ensure that all agents worldwide behave on the basis of the same price signal. Its proceeds could be used to both to stimulate research and investment, and to compensate the poor for the loss of purchasing power. But a global tax would require a level of international cooperation that is unlikely to be achieved.  

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

In the absence of a global tax, we need a comprehensive international agreement in which all the major countries take part, even if they do not enter into the same commitments at the same time. This is essential because, if the major emerging and developing countries do not take part in the agreement, the developed countries are likely to resort unilaterally to some form of border measures to maintain the competitiveness of production from their territory. This would give rise to dangerous trade disputes.

A global agreement, while differentiated, will need to go beyond nominal participation of developing countries. There will be a fine balance to strike and that’s what is at stake in the global negotiations this year. 

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

No. The world of 1980 was fragmented into a series of autarkic national financial systems that were themselves often fragmented into further sub-sectors. Today’s challenge is to make financial globalisation work, that is, to reap the benefits of a global allocation of savings and the diffusion of the best financial technologies, without paying a high price in terms of instability.

This challenge was already apparent ten years ago, after the Asian crisis, but it was ignored. It is now glaringly evident. To make financial globalisation work implies better regulation at global level or at least better coordination. It also requires surveillance of national policies, including those of the great powers. If we do not succeed we may well return to the fragmentation of the 1980s. But at a price, because it would imply less efficiency and tighter constraints on economic development. 

* Will globalisation suffer a major setback in the next few years?

It may. Fortunately, so far governments have avoided resorting to the protectionist option. There have been disputable measures here and there but on the whole priority has been given to cooperation, not stand-alone solutions. Visibly, governments have not forgotten the lessons of the 1930s. But with unemployment and business bankruptcies on the rise in the coming quarters, and as citizens become increasingly angry (and justifiably so), domestic politics will pull them in the opposite direction. Even in the best of cases the financial crisis and the economic crisis will be followed by social and political crises.

So it is not enough to know what not to do. The only way to counter the protectionist risk is to make international cooperation deliver. The good start at the G20 summits in Washington and London needs to be followed by further reforms at the G20 meeting in New York in September and at the UN COP15 climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December of this year. The momentum needs to be kept.

Von Birgit Marschall

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