Monday, March 30, 2009

America's Tarnished Reputation Threatens Global Response To Financial Crisis

One of the biggest casualties from the financial crisis — and our handling of it — has been the loss of America's reputation on financial matters. As far as most of the world can tell we are the ones who started this financial mess — which is enveloping much of the world — and even worse we have appeared incompetent to fix it. Why then would the rest of the world listen to us when we try to piece together an effective global response? As Paul Krugman points out in his recent article, America quite possibly could have lost one of its most valuable assets — its reputation — right when they — and the world — need it most. For more on this, read the following blog post from Mark Thoma.

The financial crisis has damaged our global authority, credibility, and leadership, and that will make it much harder for the world to accomplish the essential task of coordinating a common response:

America the Tarnished, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Ten years ago the cover of Time magazine featured Robert Rubin,... Alan Greenspan,... and Lawrence Summers... Time dubbed the three “the committee to save the world,” crediting them with leading the global financial system through a crisis..., although it was a small blip compared with what we’re going through now.

All the men on that cover were Americans, but nobody considered that odd. After all, in 1999 the United States was the unquestioned leader of the global crisis response. ... The United States, everyone thought, was the country that knew how to do finance right.

How times have changed..., ... our claims of financial soundness — claims often invoked as we lectured other countries on the need to change their ways — have proved hollow.

Indeed, these days America is looking like the Bernie Madoff of economies: for many years it was held in respect, even awe, but it turns out to have been a fraud all along. ...

Simon Johnson..., who served as the chief economist at the IMF..., declares that America’s current difficulties are “shockingly reminiscent” of crises in places like Russia and Argentina — including the key role played by crony capitalists.

In America as in the third world, he writes, “elite business interests — financiers, in the case of the U.S. — played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive.”

It’s no wonder, then, that an article in yesterday’s Times about the response President Obama will receive in Europe was titled “English-Speaking Capitalism on Trial.”

Now, in fairness ... the United States was far from being the only nation in which banks ran wild. Many European leaders are still in denial about the continent’s economic and financial troubles, which arguably run as deep as our own... Still, it’s a fact that the crisis has cost America much of its credibility, and with it much of its ability to lead.

And that’s a very bad thing... I’ve been revisiting the Great Depression,... one thing that stands out ... is the extent to which the world’s response to crisis was crippled by the inability of the world’s major economies to cooperate.

The details of our current crisis are very different, but the need for cooperation is no less. President Obama got it exactly right last week when he declared: “All of us are going to have to take steps in order to lift the economy. We don’t want a situation in which some countries are making extraordinary efforts and other countries aren’t.”

Yet that is exactly the situation we’re in. I don’t believe that even America’s economic efforts are adequate, but they’re far more than most other wealthy countries have been willing to undertake. And by rights this week’s G-20 summit ought to be an occasion for Mr. Obama to chide and chivy European leaders, in particular, into pulling their weight.

But these days foreign leaders are in no mood to be lectured by American officials, even when — as in this case — the Americans are right.

The financial crisis has had many costs. And one of those costs is the damage to America’s reputation, an asset we’ve lost just when we, and the world, need it most.

This post can also be viewed on

No comments: