The perils of 2012
By Joseph E. Stiglitz |
KOLKATA -- The year 2011 will be remembered as the time when many ever-optimistic Americans began to give up hope. President John F. Kennedy once said that a rising tide lifts all boats. But now, in the receding tide, Americans are beginning to see not only that those with taller masts had been lifted far higher, but also that many of the smaller boats had been dashed to pieces in their wake.
In that brief moment when the rising tide was indeed rising, millions of people believed that they might have a fair chance of realizing the “American Dream.” Now those dreams, too, are receding. By 2011, the savings of those who had lost ...view middle of the document...
This year is set to be even worse. It is possible, of course, that the United States will solve its political problems and finally adopt the stimulus measures that it needs to bring down unemployment to 6% or 7% (the pre-crisis level of 4% or 5% is too much to hope for). But this is as unlikely as it is that Europe will figure out that austerity alone will not solve its problems. On the contrary, austerity will only exacerbate the economic slowdown. Without growth, the debt crisis -- and the euro crisis -- will only worsen. And the long crisis that began with the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 and the subsequent recession will continue.
Moreover, the major emerging-market countries, which steered successfully through the storms of 2008 and 2009, may not cope as well with the problems looming on the horizon. Brazil’s growth has already stalled, fueling anxiety among its neighbors in Latin America.
Meanwhile, long-term problems -- including climate change and other environmental threats, and increasing inequality in most countries around the world -- have not gone away. Some have grown more severe. For example, high unemployment has depressed wages and increased poverty.
The good news is that addressing these long-term problems would actually help to solve the short-term problems. Increased investment to retrofit the economy for global warming would help to stimulate economic activity, growth, and job creation. More progressive taxation, in effect redistributing income from the top to the middle and bottom, would simultaneously reduce inequality and increase employment by boosting total demand. Higher taxes at the...