Voice

The irony of global economic governance: the system worked

We live in a world where every other Thomas Friedman column bemoans the lack of global leadership, and every other David Rothkopf tweet bewails the dysfunction of global governance.  Phrases like "G-Zero" get tossed around a lot, and trashing global economic governance seems to be a prerequisite for writing in the Financial Times

Given this climate, I thought it would be useful to take a step back and point out a rather awkward and uncomfortable truth:  global economic governance has actually done a surprisingly good job in response to the 2008 financial crisis. 

Ludicrous, you say?  Well, to make my case, I've written up an IIGG working paper for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled, "The Irony of Global Economic Governance:  The System Worked."  The opening paragraph: 

The 2008 financial crisis posed the biggest challenge to the global economy since the Great Depression and provided a severe “stress test” for global economic governance. A review of economic outcomes, policy outputs, and institutional resilience reveals that these regimes performed well during the acute phase of the crisis, ensuring the continuation of an open global economy. Even though some policy outcomes have been less than optimal, international institutions and frameworks performed contrary to expectations. Simply put, the system worked

Now you'll have to read the whole thing to see if I'm blinkered or not.  There's a decent chance that I am, mind you, but I'm pretty comfortable with the empirics of my case.  What I'm uncomfortable with is the reasons why things have played out the way that they have.  More on that as I work it out in my own head. 

Now I've been just as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to some dimensions of global economic governance.  Still, this is one of those times when stepping away from the day-to-day of the blog and looking at the overall situation provides some valuable perspective. 

Still, feel free to point out where I'm wrong.  Cause I suspect that this paper is going to drive some Very Serious People in the foreign policy community absolutely bonkers. 

Daniel W. Drezner

The international relations of QE3

The Wall Street Journal has two great stories on the Federal Reserve's decision to go for QE3 -- a third round of quantitative easing.  First, Jon Hilsenrath documents how Fed chairman Benjamin Bernanke built a consensus among the Federal Reserve governors:

For weeks, Mr. Bernanke made dozens of private calls on days, nights and weekends, trying to build broad support for an unusual bond-buying program he wanted approved during the Fed's September meeting, according to people familiar with the matter....

Fed officials described the Fed chairman's phone calls as low-pressure conversations. Mr. Bernanke sometimes dialed up colleagues while in his office on weekends, catching them off guard when their phones identified his private number as unknown. He gave updates on the latest staff forecasts, colleagues said. He asked their thoughts and what they could comfortably support, they said.

The calls helped Mr. Bernanke gauge how far he could push his committee. It also won him trust among some of his fiercest opponents, officials said. Nearly all of Mr. Bernanke's colleagues described him as a good listener.

"Even if you disagree with him on the programs, you know your voice has been heard," said [Dallas Fed President Richard] Fisher, one of his opponents. "There is no effort to bully."

So Bernanke did a lot of hand-holding, a lot of listening... to the key Fed decision-makers.  What's equally important is who he didn't talk to -- namely, other central bank heads in the rest of the world. 

I bring this up because some of these central bank officials are pretty pissed.  QE3 has caused the yuan to hit its all-time high against the dollar, for example.  Which leads us to the other interesting Wall Street Journal story.  Aaron Back and In-Soo Nam document how South Korea and China have reacted to QE3

Chinese and South Korean central-bank officials criticized the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest easing efforts and advocated reducing Asia's dependence on the U.S. dollar.

The comments Thursday, at a joint seminar in Beijing by the two central banks, are the clearest indication yet of a rising backlash in Asia against U.S. monetary policy, suggesting it could speed up the search for alternatives to the dollar as the main global currency.

"The rise in global liquidity could lead to rapid capital inflows into emerging markets including South Korea and China and push up global raw-material prices," said Bank of Korea Gov. Kim Choong-soo. "Therefore, Korea and China need to make concerted efforts to minimize the negative spillover effect arising from the monetary policies of advanced nations."

Chen Yulu, an academic adviser to the People's Bank of China, said Asia needs a "regional core currency" to reduce its dependence on the dollar. China's ultimate goal is for the yuan to be as important as the euro or the dollar, he said.

Whoa, this sounds pretty bad... until you get to the next paragraph: 

But [Chen] acknowledged that will be a slow process, saying it would be possible for the yuan to be fully convertible by 2020, and that the overall yuan-internationalization process may last until 2040. China strictly controls its currency, though it has made small moves to broaden its use globally in recent years and has also allowed a little more flexibility in its movements (emphasis added).

As I've said before, the dollar ain't going away anytime soon, and whatever leverage analysts believe China possesses with its dollar holdings is vastly overstated.   

Furthermore, it's worth noting that the international bitching and moaning about QE3 seems much less than the "currency war" rhetoric that QE2 triggered.  Why?  Based on my half-assed blog analysis I'd speculate that there are three reasons: 

1)  The global economy is in a more sluggish state in 2012 than in 2010, so it's hard to argue that expansionary monetary policy is inappropriate now. 

2)  The United States was not the only major economy to go the quantitative easing route in the past few months.  Both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have made similar -- if uncoordinated -- moves

3)  The central bank heads have learned frrom QE2 that the bitching and moaning won't accomplish anything.  It didn't stop QE2 and it won't stop QE3. 

Am I missing anything?