Stimulating

After months of confusion, we are about to close a painful chapter in the economic crisis of 2008-2009. With the imminent passage of the $800 billion stimulus package combined with the roll-out of the next stages of the government-orchestrated bank bailout and recapitalization, we are about to end the talking phase and enter the doing phase. While no one can say for sure whether these plans will work, it’s certain that they will have an effect.

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The Unknowable Lightness of Being

Each month, the Federal Reserve releases its latest minutes of its last meeting along with its projections of economic activity (www.federalreserve.gov). The minutes just released indicate that its prior forecasts have been tweaked a bit, with update projections for unemployment over the next two years, GDP growth, and inflation. As new data become available, the hundreds of economists at the Fed revise and recalculate numbers, which means that any forecast rarely lasts more than a few months.

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The Insider Trading Scandal: Is It the Crime or the Prosecution?

The media is abuzz with the news that the former head of McKinsey consulting, Goldman Sachs director and current board member of Proctor & Gamble Rajat Gupta has been charged with insider trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is now the highest-profile individual to be implicated in the widespread investigation driven by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that has already ensnared dozens of lower-level traders and Raj Rajaratnam, former head of hedge fund Galleon.

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Hu’s on First — China and the United States

So Hu came to Washington, met with some CEOs, had a nice dinner and a 21-gun salute, and opened the Chinese purse to the tune of $45 billion in new business between China and the United States. The buzz was mostly positive, and the billions didn’t hurt. But it’s safe to say that most Americans are hardening into a view of China as a hostile competitive threat, and many Chinese have concluded that while the 20th century may have belonged to the United States, the 21st belongs to them.

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Cancun and Climate: Government Won’t Act, But Business Will

Over the next two weeks, Cancun will be in the spotlight for something other than spring break madness. As host of the annual climate summit that once saw such promise in Kyoto in 1997, Cancun in 2010 is framed by the spectacular failure of last year’s Copenhagen talks and by the stark realization that nearly 200 nations simply cannot agree on anything of consequence.

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Sustainable Excellence: The Future of Business in a Fast-Changing World

The economy continues to limp along, and from the debate in this U.S. election season, it seems as though the path to restoring economic vitality is terra incognita. Over the past generation, economic advances have been jump started by fundamental changes: first, globalization, and then the rise of the internet economy.

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How Bad Is It? Greece, Panic and the Crisis of Confidence

The Greek debt crisis finally spilled over in full force to U.S. markets, aided and abetted by extreme statements emanating from such esteemed and prominent voices as Muhammed El-Erian of the large bond investor Pimco, who warned that Greece could be just the beginning of sovereign debt catastrophes. In the space of minutes, the major U.S. indices plunged more than 10%, fueled by the same programmatic electronic trades that were part of the battering in late 2008 into 2009. And then in the space of 15 minutes, they recovered, without — it’s fair to say — much human decision-making during that interval (and if an individual even tried trading during those 30 minutes, they would have found it difficult or impossible, as web sites such as schwab.com were completely overwhelmed with traffic).

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Debt: The Third Rail of Journalism

Last week, I published an essay in Time magazine about debt, arguing that our current preoccupation with the federal deficit and with debt in general is a dangerous distraction from the real issue (namely, our inability to invest and spend wisely to create the economy of the future). The problem isn’t debt per se - after all, the U.S. government took on much more debt during and after World War II, and few would argue that was bad policy or led to disaster. The problem is that we aren’t spending our debt productively; instead, we’re frittering it away on consumption, tax rebates, military budgets to pay for Cold War-era weapons systems, pork projects, or other forms of spending that will not yield returns in the future.

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The U.S. and China: The Defining Issue of Our Day

In his current Asian trip, President Obama visits Japan, then addresses a forum of leaders in Singapore, and eventually ends up in Seoul to discuss nukes and North Korea. But make no mistake, the axis of this week is the time Obama will spend in China, which has catapulted to the forefront of international affairs and is on its way to joining the United States as the alpha and omega of the global economic system.

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The Winds Are Still Blowing East

While Washington is glued to the drama over health care, over the past few days, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been in Beijing meeting with Chinese leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao and President Hu Jintao. In a series of communiqués, they celebrated the “strategic partnership” between the two countries and charted a course of future close relations.

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Superfusion: How China and America Became One Economy and Why the World’s Prosperity Depends on It

The economic relationship between China and the United States is the defining issue of our day. While debates over health care are vital to American society, and while challenges ranging from Iran to Afghanistan to North Korea are real, nothing will determine the arc of the coming decades — or will shape domestic life and prosperity in the United States — more than the emergence of China as a global economic superpower unrivaled except by America.

 

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Krugman Is Wrong: Why China Won’t Revalue

For years, Americans have been fulminating about China and its policy toward currency. While many of the debates are technical and laden with econo-speak, they boil down to the simple conviction that China is unfairly manipulating its currency to keep it undervalued against the dollar. The result is to give China unfair advantages in trade - flooding the US with cheap goods, hurting labor wages world-wide, and accumulating massive surpluses in the process.

 

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The Recession Is Over — and It Isn’t

With Wall Street — and the Federal Reserve — in a headlong rush to declare the recession over, the economic data has indicated that the simple binary recession/no recession framework obscures more than it reveals. Yes, defined purely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the recession looks to be winding down, with strong indications that GDP is about to turn positive after a long and painful swoon.

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Youssou N’Dour and “I Bring What I Love”: An Elegaic Meditation on Faith, Islam and Music

President Obama’s speech in Cairo last week as well as the candid and heated debates in Iran during its contentious presidential election provide yet another opportunity to revisit the sterile images of Islam that dominate the discussion both in the West and throughout the Muslim world as well. That discussion is framed by Muslim terrorists or extremists on the one hand squaring off against secular but resentful populations on the other. That is one facet of a kaleidoscope, a potent one but in no way the only one.

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Enough Already

The financial markets are again getting pummeled, both domestically and globally; the nearly $800 billion stimulus package signed with fanfare by President Obama has done little to alter the mood. In fact, if you read through financial websites and assorted blogs on politics, economics, or anything related to those, you will find a nearly endless sea of misery. The level of anger, pessimism, despair, and sheer hopelessness seems to reach new peaks every week, in inverse relation to the movement of global equity prices and the size of individual retirement accounts.

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Don’t Demonize Debt

As Wall Street continues its slow-motion hari kari, tens of millions of people on the lower-end of the income spectrum are finding that their access to credit is becoming all but nonexistent. As banks set aside ever more cash to cover themselves against potential future losses, the credit spigot that flowed so promiscuously to riskier customers is now not flowing at all.

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As Main Street Rejoices, Wall Street is a Basket Case

If you were not one of the 2 million people watching the inauguration on the Mall in Washington, you could watch the spectacle on any number of television channels. Flipping between ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS would have yielded different commentary but largely the same mood: euphoria, awe at the magnitude of electing the first African-American president, and somber urgency about what confronts our financial system and the world. Yet, even as Obama warned of a difficult road, the crowds were wildly enthusiastic, and millions were moved. Main Street has turned a corner.

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