Summary: We can only guess at the outlines of the new world that lies beyond the post-WWII geopolitical regime whose death-throes dominate the headlines. This post explains why we can only guess, and gives a list of my guesses.
The end of this downturn will be like a singularity in astrophysics, where the rules break down. We cannot see beyond it because we do not understand the choices that will determine our fate – let alone how we will choose. It also resembles a singularity in that what lies on the other side is unimportant until (or unless) one survives the passage through it.
Here are some guesses about the new world order — and America. Each of these is described in detail in one or more posts. This is just a brief review (1200 words), nothing coherent or integrated.
- Far less risk-taking in America
- Our financial system swings from disintermediation to re-intermediation
- The government becomes obviously insolvent
- Government controls not just the risk-free rate of interest, but also risk premia
- The end of the US dollar as the reserve currency
- The end of the US empire
- The US dollar declines in value so that our trade deficit goes away, and we can pay our foreign debts
- Afterword and where to go for more information
(1) Far less risk-taking in America
After this downturn a majority of Americans will see the government as the ideal employer. Usually with pay equal to that of private sector equivalents (except for the top tier), usually with superior benefits, and — most important — always far better job security.
People in America (us) were fools not to realize that job security is the key to building wealth for most workers. There are few people laid off in the private sector. Most are fired, never to be re-hired at that firm. To be fired in one’s late 50’s is involuntary retirement for most people, at a time when civil servants are accruing retirement pay at their peak wages. Hence for most Americans civil service offers both greater security and superior income, looking at the results of a lifetime of work.
This downturn might lead to greater understanding of this harsh fact. Sirens like Daniel Gross will write articles like “Jump! – If the economy is going to recover, Americans need to start taking risks again” (Slate, 14 March 2009), but increasingly Americans will realize that for most of us the risk-reward odds favor civil service.
The effect of this on our society will be large, in many dimensions. It will be a big change in our culture, with effects difficult to foresee.
(2) Our financial system swings from disintermediation to re-intermediation
The “ownership society” was the last gasp of the post-WWII order, an adaptation to a stable regime that was even then fading away. In a period of unpredictable change, direct ownership of financial assets is to risk for any but the rich. People will return to guaranteed investments, where stable business act as intermediaries who absorb the risk of direct ownership. For more on this see
- A brief note about our financial system: Intermediation, disintermediation, and soon re-intermediation, 16 October 2008
(3) The government becomes obviously insolvent
Our government is already broke. We are like the coyote in the Road Runner cartoons, running off the cliff for several yards before looking down. The debt — the bill from past spending — is six trillion, That’s roughly $60,000 per household (not including state and local debt). The liability (past spending plus promises of future benefits) is aprox $54 trillion, over a half million per household. That’s in addition to the already crushing household debt of Americans, with the bottom 60% de facto insolvent.
At some point we will wake from our dreamtime to confront this reality. Then the world will learn about the nature of America.
For more on this see:
- The most important story in this week’s newspapers, 22 May 2008
- A certain casualty of the recession: the US Government’s solvency, 25 November 2008
(4) Government controls not just the risk-free rate of interest, but also risk premias
Today we can only guess at the shape of the post-recession world. Prof Delong said that the 1930’s led to government control of riskless rate of interest (the price of money), and the current crisis will result in government regulation of the risk premium (the price of risk). A long global recession will drive changes in beliefs, behavior, and capital structure that we can only imagine today.
(5) The end of the US dollar as the reserve currency
It’s a trust and responsibility which we have ruthlessly exploited in order to borrow vast sums we probably can never repay. We cannot see what will replace the US dollar as a medium of exchange for trade and as a storehouse of value. But when the need is realized something will be found, as it is hardly an insurmountable problem. Perhaps a basket of currencies.
(6) The end of the US empire
The transition from American hegemony to a multi-polar world is perhaps the most obvious — and most widely forecast — result of this downturn. For more on this see:
- Prof Nouriel Roubini describes “The Decline of the American Empire”, 18 August 2008
- The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world, 8 September 2008
- “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
- “End of Empire” by David Roche, 29 November 2008
- The transition between Imperial reigns: what will it mean for America?, 16 December 2008
- To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak, 6 March 2009
(7) The US dollar declines in value so that our trade deficit goes away, and we can pay our foreign debts
How will this recession end? My guess: with re-balancing of the global economy and a decline of the US dollar so that the our goods and services are again competitive. No more trade deficit, we can pay our debts, and there will be no serious outflow of jobs.
- Geopolitical implications of the current economic downturn, 24 January 2008
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(8b) For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp interest are:
- About Financial crisis – what’s happening? how will this end?
- About the End of the post-WWII geopolitical regime
- About America – how can we reform it?
Posts about the Implications for the future, about structural changes to America and the world:
- Treasury Secretary Paulson leads us across the Rubicon, 9 September 2008
- Say good-bye to the old America. Welcome to our new socialist paradise!, 17 September 2008
- Another voice warning about the nationalization of AIG, 18 September 2008
- Another step away from our Constitutional system, with applause, 19 September 2008
- America appoints a Magister Populi to deal with the financial crisis, 21 September 2008
- Legal experts discuss if the Paulson Plan is legal, 21 September 2008
- German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück explains how the world is changing, 30 September 2008
- America has changed. Why do so many foreigners see this, but so few Americans?, 1 October 2008
- America is changing. Read some chillling words from a liberal economist, 2 October 2008
- Does this economic crisis make the State stronger – or is it another step in the decline of the state?, 16 January 2009
- This financial crisis is the transition to a new world; like birth, it is painful, 11 February 2009
- Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, 24 February 2009