What is the biggest threat to the world economy in the year ahead? Forget about slumping industry in China, failing banks or unpredictable monetary policy. All these familiar economic problems pale into insignificance compared with the combined risks of Brexit, a Trump presidency and resurgent nationalism in Germany. If any of these threats are realised, the consequences will far outweigh the impact of the 2008 financial crisis. Just as in the 1930s, the upsurge of nationalism and protectionism turned out to be far more important than the 1929 stockmarket crash.
Business managers and investors usually downplay political risks. After declaring that their companies can succeed in any political environment, they often add, sotto voce, that politicians rarely carry out rash promises made in election campaigns. In today’s conditions, this is wishful thinking. The political insurgents will doubtless change their minds about many issues, but the promises to which they will have to commit themselves in order to win elections will be exactly the ones that are most economically destructive: a Brexit victory will pull Britain out of Europe; a Trump presidency will certainly start with a tariff war with China and an economic attack on Mexico; any involvement in the German government by the xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will certainly mean expelling Greece from the euro, probably followed by Spain and Italy.
“A Trump presidency will start with a tariff war on China and an economic attack on Mexico”
In Britain, the likelihood of a deep economic slump if the nation chooses Brexit has at least been widely recognised and debated. Britons will have no-one to blame but themselves if they consciously vote for what George Osborne aptly calls “a DIY recession.” By contrast, Americans and Germans who vote for Trump or the AfD will expect to boost their living standards. When they discover that a trade war or break-up of the euro will have the opposite effect the blame will fall on foreigners and…