Before you switch off, I don’t mean climate change. That’s a doddle since we have little control over it, despite what the doomsters think. Nor am I writing about nuclear war, surely a distant memory now.
I mean the alarming slide into a 1930s style worldwide Depression.
I’ve written a few times in Syntagma about the constraints of running a business in England, where the pound sterling is the currency, while our income is designated and paid in US dollars. Now one of the world’s major companies, Airbus — which is partly owned by the French state — has announced that its business model is shot through and broken.
Their problem is that the dollar has fallen even more against the euro than the pound. A euro is now worth $1.50. A few years ago there was jubilation when the euro achieved parity with the dollar. Eat your hearts out Eurocrats!
Airbus sells more airliners around the world than Boeing, but since aircraft prices are designated in dollars, they get paid one third less than Boeing compared with the period of parity. In a tight-margin international business that’s fatal. Many other European companies are feeling the pinch too — business confidence has all but collapsed in Germany, and the French are going through one of their periodic episodes of industrial unrest, with workers marching in the streets against Government diktat.
The driving mechanism behind all this is the massive US trade deficit. The Treasury is content to see a steady drop in the dollar as a correction to this deficit. Other countries see it as “beggar my neighbor”.
But more ominous forces are gathering now which will really put pressure on the world’s financial system. The new economies of China, Brazil and India are starting to move their large trade surpluses out of dollar assets into euro assets. The same is happening with the petrodollar states in the Gulf. Apart from setting up a future Wall Street crash, it’s also putting great strains on the eurozone, which is a ragbag club of nations speaking different languages and with very different economies.
The strain is such that Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France, is talking about limiting capital flows into the eurozone. The EU Commission has said this is possible because of a little known clause in an annexe to a policy document dating back to 2003. Europe always reverts to political will over the rule of law.
Since this decision could be taken by majority voting of finance ministers, Britain could be outvoted here. The result of a cap on capital inflows would be devastating to London, which is the world’s leading financial centre. In such circumstances Britain would have no choice but to withdraw from the European Union.
Stateside, the sub-prime mortgage fiasco is feeding into the wider situation and genuine fears of a 1929 crash and 1930s type depression are rife among those who know about these things.
Will it happen? Luckily for Americans, “cometh the hour, cometh the man”. Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has spent his life studying the causes of the 1930s Depression, so is unlikely to allow the same mistakes to be made. He can also call on the advice of wily old Alan Greenspan, now retired, whose new book, The Age of Turbulence should be required reading for anyone interested in the global economy in the 21st century.
Syntagma’s guess is that Western economies are resilient and flexible enough to withstand the shocks that are coming without withering on the vine. The joker in the pack, though, is the eurozone, which lacks the strength of the Common Law countries in dealing with the rest of the world. There’s even wild talk in Brussels about a Fortress Europe, with the euro countries only trading with themselves behind massive tariff walls. Sound familiar? It’s Politburo time again in the Chancelleries of Europe.
I believe the euro currency will collapse within five years. Britain will withdraw from the EU to preserve its international trading position, and America will take a severe knock but will recover strongly to regain its former position.
As for the emerging “superpowers”, they face a collapse in their export trade from which they will struggle to recover — think Japan in the 1990s and the meltdown of the Tiger economies of the Far East.
There’s a lot of water to flow under this bridge yet. It’s a greater immediate threat than climate change, so let’s ease back on all the noise about carbon footprints, offsets and trading.
There’s Armageddon to deal with first.