Thursday, January 29, 2009

International, International, International

The most fundamental aspect of the current crisis is its international nature. Essentially, huge seas of capital are sloshing around the world and creating great instability in the process. Trust in financial markets is hurt by the general instability and the particular abuses.

Carefully designed international regulations could increase transparency and accountability without squelching capital movement dramatically. The problem is that, when one country imposes such controls, capital can move to another country with great speed. International coordination is clearly desirable. Unfortunately, there is not enough trust for that either.

Robert Samuelson identifies the three layers of the crisis (consumer, finance, and international trade) that must be solved simultaneously. The current US government responses focus on the first two problems. On the third, there is little intelligent government response. In fact, we are likely to see increased protectionism, such as through the "Buy America" steel provision in the recent stimulus package.

The Obama interest in infrastructure development is a good first step towards addressing the need to be internationally competitive but we will not have addressed the challenges, and opportunities, of our economic moment until we look more seriously at international financial and economic structures.