The situation on the markets would be solvable. But politicians are turning them into a major crisis.
For ten years, the economy was practically only uphill, but now threatens the economic boom, an abrupt end. In almost all regions of the world, growth rates are declining, in some places, in Italy and Germany, for example, they are now so close to the zero line that even a decline in economic output is no longer unthinkable. No wonder that many commentators are already worried about 2009, when the world plunged into the deepest economic crisis since the end of the war.
But as scary as the reminiscences of the "great recession" may be, they are so wrong. Even though the economic outlook has indeed clouded over: from a state like 2009, when economies shrank dramatically and unemployment rates skyrocketed, the world today is a long way off. For example, growth rates in the US are falling, but they are still at a level that Europe's outmoded societies can only dream of. China is slowly leveling off gains that are not as high, but ideally more sustainable than before. And in Germany, growth is not stagnating because wages, inflation and interest rates have become intolerable, but because export demand is weakening because of general political uncertainty in the world.
The ongoing mix of ignorance and incompetence makes the situation dangerous
So the mood is worse than the situation. This sounds comforting – but it is not, because from a bad mood can quickly grow a lousy situation.
Whether companies invest and thus lay the foundation for an upswing depends primarily on tax rates and subsidies, motorway access and labor, business opportunities and profit expectations. Equally important are psychological factors: is a country politically stable? Is legal security right? Are important institutions such as the Cartel Office and the central bank independent? Who wants to blame the world's investors against this background for being reluctant to spend money in the UK? That they put plans for the construction of new factories in Europe or North America on ice, because they have to fear tariffs, which soon lead their cost calculation to absurdity. That they postpone plans for expansion because they do not know whether they are actually welcome in a country or are soon in the sights of populist regents.
Washington's IMF Spring meeting this week would have given the assembled finance ministers the opportunity to send out a strong message that the global community is fighting the economic downturn together. Instead, however, the debate has once again been overshadowed by threats, mutual demands, and a first-person attitude that emanates primarily from the US. In addition, there is a mixture of ignorance and deliberate stupidities, which have mastered the Germans for years masterfully and which is hardly better than the simple-minded American economic nationalism. For example, as long as the German government simply ignores calls for a more active role in the economic recovery and also pretends that it does not address the problem of high German trade surpluses, it is also part of the problem rather than the solution.
So it's not the economic metrics that have to worry – they're all pulled together, probably rapidly improving. It is the political actors, their nationalism and populism, their ignorance and their inability to leap over their own shadows, which could turn a brief thunderstorm into a severe stormy weather.