Choices made in 2009 will shape the globe’s destiny

Welcome to 2009. This is a year in which the fate of the world economy will be determined, maybe for generations. Some entertain hopes that we can restore the globally unbalanced economic growth of the middle years of this decade. They are wrong.

Our choice is only over what will replace it. It is between a better balanced world economy and disintegration. That choice cannot be postponed. It must be made this year.

We are in the grip of the most significant global financial crisis for seven decades. As a result, the world has run out of creditworthy, large-scale, willing private borrowers. The alternative of relying on vast US fiscal deficits and expansion of central bank credit is a temporary – albeit necessary – expedient. But it will not deliver a durable return to growth. Fundamental changes are needed.

Already it must be clear even to the most obtuse and complacent that this crisis matches the most serious to have affected advanced countries in the postwar era. In a recent update of a seminal paper, released a year ago, Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard spell out what this means.* They note the similarities among big financial crises in advanced and emerging countries and, by combining a number of severe cases, reach disturbing conclusions.

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