The mood last week was gloomy at Davos, said William Keegan in Britain’s Observer. For the past few years, the atmosphere at the Swiss ski resort that hosts the annual World Economic Forum had been “laughably optimistic,” assuming “that the rest of the world had ‘decoupled’ from the U.S. economy.” No longer did the cliché hold, economists assured us, that if the U.S. sneezed, the rest of the world would catch a cold. Turns out that American germs are pretty virulent after all. This year, Davos was awash in pessimism. Virtually everyone agreed that the U.S. was heading for, or already embroiled in, a recession. The debate was about the extent to which the rest of the world would also suffer.
“Now the word on everyone’s lips is ‘recoupling,’” said Jason Kirby in Canada’s Maclean’s. That essentially means having financial corporations controlled by former Third World governments—such as Singapore, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia—bail out the American banks. These other countries are now buying shares in U.S. banks. They have little choice. “The U.S. growth machine is simply too important, and its ties to other economies like Canada’s and China’s too complex, for the effects of a deep U.S. recession not to be felt the world over.” Since the U.S. absorbs 20 percent of China’s direct exports, and about that much again of Chinese exports ferried through other countries, the U.S. recession will certainly hurt Chinese growth.
Still, China has its own economic power, said Indonesia’s Jakarta Post in an editorial. Increasingly, so does India. Those countries are major manufacturers and exporters, and if they can’t sell to the U.S., they can still sell to Asian and European markets. That’s why “the impact of a U.S. recession now should not be as severe as it was 10 years ago.” The Indonesian stock market may have plummeted nearly 8 percent last week, but “we think panic and fear, not economic fundamentals, were the main factor.”
If the rest of the world is panicking, said South Africa’s Business Day, it’s because we’re all wondering “what it is that the Fed knows that markets don’t.” The rate cut of 75 basis points implemented by the Fed last week took global exchanges by surprise—it was much deeper than expected. “Does the Fed have reason to believe not only that the U.S. economy will dive into recession but that the global economy will follow?” Now that everyone’s got the jitters, that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.