Friday, February 8, 2008

While the House Burns

. Friday, February 8, 2008

Legend has it that shortly after FDR's inauguration in 1932, Congress engaged in a long floor debate on one of the components of the first New Deal. As the debate carried on into the night, a group of legislators began heckling, "the house is burning! the house is burning!" In that spirit, I give you the following.

The Group of Seven meet tomorrow in Tokyo to confirm their unwillingness to work collectively to stabilize the world economy. The list of items on which the world's advanced industrialized countries cannot agree is short but includes practically every policy that matters.
Exchange rates: EU governments are not particularly happy about the dollar's weakness, but the US is unwilling to discuss exchange rates.
Fiscal policy: Governments disagree about the need for a coordinated fiscal response. While the UK is contemplating fiscal expansion, the Japanese and Germans resist. The German attitude is particularly troubling: "Germany’s deputy finance minister has said the blame, and thus the responsibility, lies squarely with the US."
Monetary Policy: The Fed has slashed rates. The ECB remains committed to its current emphasis on holding the line against incipient inflation and shows no indication that it believes that it should shift away from that target (H/T Mankiw). (Brings the old adage to mind: "Generals always prepare to fight the previous war."

I'm not saying that 2007-08 is the same as 1929-1932, but in the face of a pretty serious financial crisis that has raged, with varying degrees of ferocity, since mid-2007, one can't help but be a little concerned (and puzzled) by the systematic unwillingness to consider any kind of cooperative response. Also, isn't it about time we started to invite China to these affairs?


While the House Burns
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