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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fareed Zakaria Newsweek Article

One year ago, the world seemed as if it might be coming apart. The global financial system, which had fueled a great expansion of capitalism and trade across the world, was crumbling. All the certainties of the age of globalization—about the virtues of free markets, trade, and technology—were being called into question. Faith in the American model had collapsed. The financial industry had crumbled. Once-roaring emerging markets like China, India, and Brazil were sinking. Worldwide trade was shrinking to a degree not seen since the 1930s.

Pundits whose bearishness had been vindicated predicted we were doomed to a long, painful bust, with cascading failures in sector after sector, country after country. In a widely cited essay that appeared in The Atlantic this May, Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, wrote: "The conventional wisdom among the elite is still that the current slump 'cannot be as bad as the Great Depression.' This view is wrong. What we face now could, in fact, be worse than the Great Depression.

Others predicted that these economic shocks would lead to political instability and violence in the worst-hit countries. At his confirmation hearing in February, the new U.S. director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, cautioned the Senate that "the financial crisis and global recession are likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging-market nations over the next year." Hillary Clinton endorsed this grim view. And she was hardly alone. Foreign Policy ran a cover story predicting serious unrest in several emerging markets.

Of one thing everyone was sure: nothing would ever be the same again. Not the financial industry, not capitalism, not globalization.

One year later, how much has the world really changed? Well, Wall Street is home to two fewer investment banks (three, if you count Merrill Lynch). Some regional banks have gone bust. There was some turmoil in Moldova and (entirely unrelated to the financial crisis) in Iran. Severe problems remain, like high unemployment in the West, and we face new problems caused by responses to the crisis—soaring debt and fears of inflation. But overall, things look nothing like they did in the 1930s. The predictions of economic and political collapse have not materialized at all.

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