Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Live by the crude, die by the crude

. Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The NY Times has a nice article on how collapsing oil prices are starting to affect the ambitions of Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejiad, and Vladimir Putin. As oil prices sky-rocketed, these leaders found plenty of cash for building international alliances and shoring up domestic support through lavish social spending programs. This domestic support in turn provided these leaders with the flexibility to pursue more aggressive foreign policies with the hopes of expanding their international influence, particularly in opposition to the U.S. But it now appears that they may have over-reached: inflation is over 30% in both Venezuela and Iran, and the Russian stock market has dropped by two-thirds in recent months. Meanwhile oil prices, and thus revenues, continue to decline. If the trend continues, these leaders may have to start making hard choices between populist domestic social programs and expansionary foreign policy.

Even so, there are still some signs that the relative economic power of the U.S. may be in decline. European leaders have been at the forefront of the response to the financial crisis, and some of the U.S. government's actions are partially explained by international concerns (e.g. the Fannie/Freddie conservatorship was necessary because of heavy Chinese investment; the AIG bailout had major international implications). And does anyone remember the strong words the U.S. had for China regarding currency manipulations? There've been crickets coming from that corner for awhile.

Still, as Daniel Drezner notes, it doesn't appear that any other country is quite ready to fill the U.S.'s shoes:

However, this interdependence cuts both ways. Because of its slowing growth, China has no choice but to continue purchasing dollar-denominated debt in order to goose its export earnings. As for Russia, $500 billion in reserves has not prevented the crash of its own equity markets.

The bottom line seems to be this: the U.S. may be incapable of continuing to run the international finance system entirely on its own as it has done since the end of WWII, but the rest of the world is incapable of controlling the system without the U.S. So the story may not be de-coupling, as some had thought; Indeed, we may see more interdependence rather than less in the near future.


Live by the crude, die by the crude
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