Dec 15th 2014

Short Memories, Broken Politics, and the Coming Recession

by Daniel Wagner

 

Daniel Wagner is the founder and CEO of Country Risk Solutions and a widely published author on current affairs and risk management.

Daniel Wagner began his career at AIG in New York and subsequently spent five years as Guarantee Officer for the Asia Region at the World Bank Group's Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in Washington, D.C. After then serving as Regional Manager for Political Risks for Southeast Asia and Greater China for AIG in Singapore, Daniel moved to Manila, Philippines where he held several positions - including as Senior Guarantees and Syndications Specialist - for the Asian Development Bank's Office of Co-financing Operations. Prior to forming CRS he was Senior Vice President of Country Risk at GE Energy Financial Services. He also served as senior consultant for the African Development Bank on institutional investment.

Daniel Wagner is the author of seven books: The America-China Divide, China Vision, AI Supremacy, Virtual Terror, Global Risk Agility and Decision Making, Managing Country Risk, and Political Risk Insurance Guide. He has also published more than 700 articles on risk management and current affairs and is a regular contributor to the South China Morning Post, Sunday Guardian, and The National Interest, among many others. (For a full listing of his publications  and media interviews please see www.countryrisksolutions.com).

Daniel Wagner holds master's degrees in International Relations from the University of Chicago and in International Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix. He received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from Richmond College in London.

Daniel Wagner can be reached at: daniel.wagner@countryrisksolutions.com.

The stock markets are frothy -- once again -- and it feels a lot like 2008. Just six years ago the markets were partying like there was no tomorrow -- ignoring the bubbles that had developed, having failed to learn lessons from the plethora of previous financial crises, and pretending that if they just kept saying everything was fine long enough, everything would indeed be just fine. Yet, after all that has happened, it appears that investors, the markets, voters, and Congress have learned little.

While Wall Street's natural inclination is to cheer the partial repeal of Dodd-Frank (the result of an 'add on' to the trillion dollar government budget passed by Congress over the weekend), exactly the opposite should be the case. Surely, Wall Street should know that it is in its own, as well as, the collective, interest to have legal boundaries in place to prevent it from succumbing to its historical propensity toward greed and excess. A gradual erosion of the remainder of Dodd-Frank under a Republican-controlled Congress after the New Year now seems inevitable. How can that be in Wall Street's, or the country's, long-term interest?

Four basic ingredients were required to allow the Great Recession to occur: greed, lax risk management, inadequate regulatory enforcement, and short memories. Greed certainly hasn't disappeared and, as is abundantly clear, people still have short memories. Although risk management procedures and regulatory enforcement mechanisms have definitely improved, the propensity to water them down has gained momentum as time has passed. So the stage would appear to be set for a recurrence of the precursors that led to the Great Recession.

Then, as now, we are our own worst enemy, with all pieces of the puzzle playing their predefined role. The bankers remain greedy. Lobbyists are trying to find ways to water down rules restricting the freedom of movement of their constituents. Risk managers are busy trying to figure out how they can remain in compliance at the very edge of the new rules. And voters continue to elect lawmakers who have a vested interest in perpetuating the system. The result is a polity that is rotten to the core, and getting worse. It is just a matter to time until the self-interest of Washington and Wall Street help propel us into another recession.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tracks recessions on a monthly basis going back to 1854, we are already overdue for another recession. From 1854 to 1919, there were 16 economic cycles, the average recession lasted 22 months, and the average economic expansion was 27 months. From 1919 to 1945, there were 6 cycles, recessions lasted an average of 18 months and expansions for 35 months. And the period from 1945 to 2001 saw 10 cycles, recessions lasted an average 10 months, and expansions an average of 57 months. So recessions got shorter and expansion periods longer over time.

Since the third quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy has expanded for 20 of the past 22 quarters (60 months), and is poised to continue the trend well in to 2015. Given that the U.S. economy is once again the de facto engine of the global economy (given China's slowdown), far outpacing Europe and most other developed economies, there would appear to be little reason to believe that two consecutive quarters of negative growth are in our near term future.

If we assume that 2015 will see at least 3, if not 4, quarters of positive growth, the most realistic prospect for the onset of a new recession will be in 2016, meaning that the current period of economic recovery will have lasted a minimum of 72 months. By post-War standards, by that time, the U.S. will have been overdue for another recession by two years. As things look now, it certainly appears possible, perhaps even probable, that a recession will either begin, or be well under way, in conjunction with the U.S. presidential election.

If so, both the Democrats and the Republicans will presumably be falling all over themselves to blame each other, pass the buck, and produce legislation aimed at reducing the pain on the American people, in an effort to demonstrate how guiltless and selfless they all are. In the process, they will no doubt end up adding in a significant way to the inexcusable size of the budget deficit, and digging us into an even deeper fiscal hole in the process.

If the Great Recession wasn't enough to change the hearts and minds of the bankers, legislators, lobbyists and voters, I really don't know what would be. We bear collective responsibility for perpetuating a terribly broken system. Each actor much play its part in order for the system to keep operating in this way. What we need are more brave politicians -- like Elizabeth Warren - to stand up and speak the unvarnished truth. If someone as brave, honest and fearless as her were to become president, there is hope the vicious cycle can be broken. But don't count on that. As Jack Nicholson said in A Few Good Men, we can't handle the truth.




Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of "Managing Country Risk". For Country Risk Solutions, please click here.

You can follow Daniel Wagner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/countryriskmgmt


To follow what's new on Facts & Arts

Each new article posted on Facts & Arts is announced on my Twitter and Google+ accounts, as well as on Facts & Arts' Facebook account.

In addition each Friday a newsletter is sent out informing our readers about articles posted during the past week.

To follow the Twitter announcements, please click here.

To follow the Google+ announcements, please click here.

To follow us on Facebook, please click here.

To join our newsletter mailing list, please click here.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."