Foi num editorial do próprio Economist, em finais da década de 90, em que eu li que o grande perigo, ou o grande pecado passível de ser cometido no século XXI, seria o da complacência. Calou fundo em mim essa evidência - mas o que é evidente para uns, não o é para outros - , e essa história já a referi neste blogue. Muitos exemplos podem ser dados de processos em curso que se arriscam a demonstrá-lo: o que se passa no domínio da política económica nos EUA e na Europa é um deles, e o mais dramático no curto, curtíssimo prazo.
A nota abaixo é reproduzida na totalidade. É sintomática e reflete o espírito com que muitos estão a viver o momento. Preocupem-se:
READING about the economic policy debates of the interwar years is a painful experience. Time and again, leaders faced decisions with potentially momentous consequences, and all too often leaders got those choices wrong. A voice of reason was often at hand, sometimes tantalizingly close to winning the day. Few observers imagined the catastrophe that loomed ahead. It was difficult, then, to conceive of the idea that governments would pilot their economies toward avoidable disaster. And yet disaster struck all the same.
Ostensibly we've learned something from that experience. Supposedly, we're better at countercyclical policy, and we're better at preventing economic downturns from leaving people utterly destitute, and we have better institutions to help us contain crises and coordinate international action. And honestly, things could be much worse. Government intervention did prevent a collapse on the scale of the Great Depression. A recovery—albeit a weak one—has been sustained for about two years. The impression seems to have formed, across broad swathes of the rich world, that the economy came close to the brink but was yanked back, and now remains a safe distance away from disaster.
This may well turn out to be the correct view. Certainly, my sense of the American economy, at this point, is that growth is far weaker than it should be but is likely to improve over the next 12 months. Yet I inevitably qualify this statement with caveats about the potential shocks that could derail recovery. The really disconcerting thing about these threats is, first, that there are so many of them—and what are the odds that we manage to dodge every bullet?—and, second, that management of these ticking time bombs has been appalling.
In America, there is reason to be concerned about the Fed's ambivalence regarding unemployment and the government's enthusiasm for short-term spending cuts. But the big danger is that Congress will not reach an agreement to lift the debt ceiling before the Treasury runs out of money on or around August 2nd. If no agreement is reached and the Treasury is forced to begin prioritising spending, the economic blow would be severe; it would amount to an immediate cut in government spending of about 44%. And should the worst happen and a default occur, it's difficult to know what would happen to the global economy, but the outcome would almost certainly be something extremely bad.
Despite this, and despite the blanket coverage of debt talks, there is a remarkable nonchalance to the political negotiation over the debt ceiling. Now that could be because everyone knows there's a contingency plan to get something passed before the deadline. I'm not confident this is the case. And I have been stunned by the willingness in Washington to play games with this vote. Perhaps all will end well, or well enough. The fact is, the parties are flirting with one of the great political mistakes of modern times. And to no small extent, the lack of public outrage and panic makes the situation all the more worrisome; the politicians may begin to believe that failure to reach an agreement is acceptable.
As troubling as the debt-ceiling battle is, the situation across the Atlantic is worse. Europe's approach to its crisis has long been disappointing, but up until now it hasn't shaken my view that the euro zone could and would take the necessary steps to come through the mess in one piece. I'm no longer sure I believe that. The moves in debt markets over the past week threaten to place Italy and Spain squarely in the crisis mix. If markets lose faith in Spain and Italy, the euro zone's task becomes much more difficult. A real solution would require a unity of purpose and a financial commitment significantly greater than euro-zone governments have yet managed. Given the souring of public opinion around the continent and the weakness of European institutions, it seems probable that a major increase in stress would split the union rather than draw it closer together. The situation in Europe isn't unsalvagable, but again, the complacency and nonchalance with which euro-zone leaders are puttering about on the edge of a precipice is staggering.
Few of us expect very bad things to happen. And that's usually reasonable; very bad things don't often occur at global economic scale. But quite often bad things don't occur because people are working very diligently to prevent them from happening. So when I see leaders of major economies stuck in vulnerable positions dithering amid circumstances in which very bad things are a possibility, I grow concerned. I start to wonder if this isn't how things looked, a little at least, to observers during the interwar years. This is no time for complacency! It's a time to work very hard to try to prevent very bad things from happening! Will policymakers realise this before it's too late?