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Mohamed El-Erian on Why We've Gone From Viewing Low Oil Prices as a Blessing to Viewing it as a Curse

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"In the last few years, the global economy has evolved in ways once deemed highly unlikely, if not unthinkable. It is a phenomenon that continues today and will intensify in the period ahead.
 The global financial crisis that shook virtually every country, government, and household in the world in 2008–09 gave way to a frustrating “new normal” of low growth, rising inequality, political dysfunction, and, in some cases, social tensions—all despite massive policy interventions on the part of central banks and transformational technological innovations.

"Now this new normal is getting increasingly exhausted. For those caring to look, signs of stress are multiplying—so much so that the path the global economy is on is likely to end soon, and potentially quite suddenly.

"As we approach this historic inflection point, unthinkables will become more common and insecurities will rise, especially as it becomes clearer that, rather than transition smoothly and automatically, the current path could give way to one of two very different new roads. The first promises higher inclusive growth and genuine financial stability. But, in stark contrast, the second would see us mired in even lower growth, periodic recessions, and the return of financial instability.

"Fortunately, there is nothing predestined about what will come after the exhaustion of the new normal. The road out of the upcoming “T junction” can still be influenced in a consequential manner by the choices that we make, as households, companies, and governments. But to make better choices, we need to understand the forces at play and their likely evolution. There is no better way of doing so than through an examination of the world’s major central banks... past, present, and future.

"These once-staid, unexciting institutions have emerged as the major and often sole policymakers. Having fallen asleep at the switch while irresponsible financial risk taking went wild, they pivoted to an aggressive intervention mode during the global financial crisis. In doing so, they saved the world from a multi-year depression that would have devastated lives and fueled social unrest.

"Sensing that other policymakers were paralyzed by dysfunctional politics, central banks then found experimental ways to keep the global economy on a growth path, albeit a somewhat artificial one, and they did so even though the underlying engines of economic prosperity were yet to be revamped."

Published in: Economy & Finance
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