Where are we today in addressing these underlying problems? To take the last one first, those countries that built up large reserves were able to weather the economic crisis better, so the incentive to accumulate reserves is even stronger.
Similarly, while bankers have regained their bonuses, workers are seeing their wages eroded and their hours diminished, further widening the income gap. Moreover, the United States has not shaken off its dependence on oil. With oil prices back above $100 a barrel this summer (and still high), money is once again being transferred to the oil-exporting countries. And the structural transformation of the advanced economies, implied by the need to move labor out of traditional manufacturing branches, is occurring very slowly.
Government plays a central role in financing the services that people want, such as education and health care. And government-financed education and training, in particular, will be critical in restoring competitiveness in Europe and the United States. But both have chosen fiscal austerity, all but ensuring that their economies’ transitions will be slow.
The prescription for what ails the global economy follows directly from the diagnosis: strong government expenditures, aimed at facilitating restructuring, promoting energy conservation, and reducing inequality, and a reform of the global financial system that creates an alternative to the buildup of reserves. Eventually, the world’s leaders, and the voters who elect them, will come to recognize this. As growth prospects continue to weaken, they will have no choice. But how much pain will we have to bear in the meantime?
This article is also available at Project Syndicate.