Sunday, October 12, 2008

Iceland and China

. . . the government of Iceland is presiding over a massive default by all the country's major banks. This troubling development points not only to an even more painful recession than anticipated, but also to the urgent need for international coordination to avoid something worse: all-out financial warfare.

. . . Iceland's promise to guarantee domestic depositors while reneging on guarantees to foreigners may be just a first step. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's decision last week to sue Iceland over this issue may escalate the crisis. The use of counterterrorist legislation to take over Icelandic bank assets and operations in the United Kingdom also has a potentially dramatic symbolic effect. (Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, "The Next World War? It Could Be Financial." The Washington Post, 10/12/08.)

There's a reason that the gestures by the US government have not sufficed to reassure financial markets: the US is no longer the unquestioned command and control center of the global economy. We have to take the imaginative leap that integrates rising developing nations into our paradigm of economic management.

Peter Boone and Simon Johnson, in today's Washington Post, point to the depth of the financial crisis in bracing detail but, unsurprisingly, fall back on nostrums about the power of the "the world's leading financial powers -- at a minimum, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany" to reassure markets. Am I naive, or does US to China (between $1.5 and $2 trillion, I believe) qualify China as an important financier? How can anyone be sure that the Chinese, given their own fragile politics, will support any plan that comes from the West in a time of financial crisis?