Martin Wolf

At a debate in Davos Joseph Nye, the American political scientist, asked the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, what he felt about the comments of the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on Sino-Japanese relations earlier in the week and especially the parallel Mr Abe drew between the pre-world war one relationships in Europe and those between China and Japan today.

These were Mr Yang’s key points in reply: Read more >>

Martin Wolf

In his address to the World Economic Forum, the prime minister was his
fluent self. But there was also an obvious tension between his embrace of
a globalised and open UK and his determination to curb immigration.

This led to a very pointed question from a Swedish MEP on precisely this
contradiction. Mr Cameron defended himself by pointing to the case for
curbing access of immigrants from the EU to welfare benefits and the need
to recognise the challenges created by the huge income gaps between some of
the new members and the old members. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

For a third year I attended a private dinner at which we laid notional wagers on the future.

This time the main question was not the future of the euro. Apparently, the future of the euro is now regarded as so assured that it is not even worth betting against it. I suspect this is too complacent. We did bet last year on Brexit (British exit from the EU), but that was by 2018. So this issue was not raised again this year.

Here are this year’s, rather less significant, bets, with the mean probabilities out of 100 per cent of the participants and my own probabilities below. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

Eric Schmidt (c) Getty Images

On Thursday Eric Schmidt gave a fascinating talk on technological innovation, in which he warned that broad range of jobs that once seemed beyond the reach of automation are in danger of being wiped out by technological advances.

I raised two questions to neither of which in my view did I receive a good answer.

First, we see IT everywhere, except in the productivity statistics. It is really quite hard to reconcile the idea of a dramatic technology revolution with stagnant or near-stagnant productivity in high-income countries. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

Lawrence Summers (c) WEF

On Thursday, I moderated a fascinating lunch-time discussion on “secular
stagnation” with Lawrence Summers, former US treasury secretary,
who has recently propounded this idea.

Other participants were Motoshige Itoh of Tokyo university, Edmund Phelps, Nobel laureate, director of the Center on Capitalism and Society, Columbia University, Adam Posen, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Helene Rey of the London Business School and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard. This was a notably heavy-weight panel.

The discussion was rich and complex. But here are some conclusions.

First, since the crisis in 2007 and 2008, the equilibrium long-run real interest rate in the high-income countries has been ultra-low and the equilibrium real short rate has been negative. There is no disagreement on this. This was an obvious indicator of sustained and chronic weakness of demand.

Second, the main instrument we have used to deal with condition this has been hyper-aggressive monetary policy. But this creates substantial problems (in some views, at least, including mine): it distributes income towards both the financial sector and the rich, while also generating bubbles. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

Having heard prime minister Shinzo Abe twice already today I can only concur with Gideon Rachman’s assessment that he does not seem to regard conflict with China as unthinkable.

Maybe, that is realistic and maybe such realism will protect the world from such a calamity. But it frightens the wits out of me. I was particularly struck by the almost casual way in which Mr Abe cited the World War I precedent. I wish the US would step more decisively on this nonsense.

I asked a question about the “third arrow” of Abenomics, which is structural reform. In this I indicated profound scepticism about the chances that this programme could generate sustainable growth of 2 per cent a year in an advanced economy with a shrinking labour force. This would imply labour productivity growth of 2.5 per cent a year – far faster than in any big high-income country since 2000. This is not inconceivable, since Japan’s labour productivity in services is relatively low. But it is a big stretch and would require large social and economic changes. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

(AP)

The future of the UK in the EU is, of course, already a subject of fierce debate. Everybody can see that the chances of a British departure have increased. The question is by how much.

I was interested to discover from a private conversation with a very senior continental official that his worry is that the rest of the EU really does not need this diversion of attention from its immediate concern, which is the reform of the eurozone.

He referred to two specific risks.

First, he is worried that the very fact that the UK may be on the way out will shake confidence in the future of the eurozone. As he noted, people in Asia or the Americas do not understand the details. They will just regard this British decision as calling into question the vitality of the European project, partly, no doubt, because the UK has deep relations with these parts of the world. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

The financial panics are over. Now we must deal with the longer-term aftermath.

I advanced this thesis at a private dinner last night and, to my surprise, Nouriel Roubini agreed with me. More precisely, he agreed that “tail risk” had been sharply reduced.

The big change of the last 12 months has, of course, been in the eurozone. This has something to do with policy improvements in vulnerable countries, particularly Italy and Spain. It has even more to do with the willingness of the European Central Bank, under the redoubtable Mario Draghi, to use its power to reduce break-up risk and offer potentially unlimited liquidity to banks and sovereigns under stress. Read more >>

Martin Wolf

Yesterday, I moderated a panel on “The Future of Economics”. The panel included two Nobel laureates in economics – Peter Diamond of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Joe Stiglitz of Columbia. (For pedants, this is the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.) It also had Robert Shiller of Yale and Brian Arthur of the Santa Fe Institute. So it would be fair to say that the panel was packed.

Three of the participants are definitely of the so-called saltwater school of economics (sceptics of the efficiency of markets in all circumstances who live on the US coasts). Professor Arthur is even more heterodox than they: he is interested in the impact of technology and increasing returns. It would have been wonderful, however, also to have had a fully committed member of the “markets are always right unless governments mess them up” freshwater school, associated particularly with the University of Chicago.

It is impossible to summarise all of such a rich discussion. But here are some of the highlights.

 Read more >>

Martin Wolf

Mood. The improvement in optimism at Davos is palpable from last year, as I argued before. Interestingly, the group showing the greatest caution seems to be the CEOs of non-financial corporates. My experience over the years is that these people are a lagging indicator. What drives them is their recent performance. However, there seems to me to be a real return of confidence among bankers, who are back in force. That does make me quite nervous. Read more >>