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The Mirage of Structural Reform

ATHENS – Every economic program imposed on Greece by its creditors since the financial crisis struck in 2009 has been held together by a central conceit: that structural reforms, conceived boldly and implemented without slippage, would bring about rapid economic recovery. The European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund anticipated that fiscal austerity would be costly to incomes and employment – though they significantly underestimated just how costly....

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Germany is Not Volkswagen

MUNICH – The Volkswagen scandal has raised questions about the German model of production. If the success of the company’s diesel-powered vehicles was due in part to fraudulent efforts to conceal the amount of harmful pollutants they emitted, will similar revelations at other companies call into questions the country’s transformation from “the sick man of Europe” to an export-driven economic powerhouse? Fortunately, the answer is almost certainly no. Germany’s competitive advantage has less...

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Beijing Versus the Billionaire

BANGKOK – China’s government and Hong Kong’s wealthiest man, the much-admired Li Ka-shing, have been waging an acidic spat – one that increasingly looks like a bitter divorce being played out in tabloid newspapers. Indeed, Chinese media have lately been directing a relentless stream of vitriol at Li. His “crime”? Buying low in Europe and selling high in China – that is, acting like an investor. The trigger for this wave of scorn was Li’s sell-off of some of his prime Shanghai properties,...

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Volkswagen and the Future of Honesty

PRINCETON – If you used the term “business ethics” in the 1970s, when the field was just starting to develop, a common response was: “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” That quip would often be followed by a recitation of Milton Friedman’s famous dictum that corporate executives’ only social responsibility is to make as much money for shareholders as is legally possible. Over the next 40 years, however, businesspeople stopped quoting Friedman and began to talk of their responsibilities to their...

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The Bezzle Years

LONDON – More than a half-century ago, John Kenneth Galbraith presented a definitive depiction of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 in a slim, elegantly written volume. Embezzlement, Galbraith observed, has the property that “weeks, months, or years elapse between the commission of the crime and its discovery. This is the period, incidentally, when the embezzler has his gain and the man who has been embezzled feels no loss. There is a net increase in psychic wealth.” Galbraith described that...

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The French Exception?

PARIS – More than ever, the French economy is at the center of the global debate about how far one can push the limits of state size and control in a capitalist democracy. To those on the left, France’s generous benefits and strong trade unions provide a formula for a more inclusive welfare state. To those on the right, France’s oversized and intrusive government offers only a blueprint for secular decline. For the moment, the right looks right. Once nearly the economic equal of Germany,...

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The Clean-Energy Moonshot

NEW YORK – In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy stirred America and the world with these words: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Just eight years later, NASA did just that – with astounding benefits for science, technology, and the world economy. Now, a group of leading scientists, innovators, and economists has identified our era’s moonshot: to replace...

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A New Vision for the World Bank

LIMA – Finance ministers, central bankers, and development economists are gathering in Lima, Peru, for the World Bank’s annual meetings, where the debate will focus on how the institution’s agenda fits our changing world. Holding the event in a developing country represents a welcome shift from the usual Washington, DC venue. Now, the Bank should make some other important shifts: It should reframe its mission and undertake new tasks, while its biggest shareholder, the United States, should...

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Debt Déjà Vu

NEW YORK – For two years, financial markets have repeated the same error – predicting that US interest rates will rise within about six months, only to see the horizon recede. This serial misjudgment is the result not of unforeseeable events, but of a failure to grasp the strength and global nature of the deflationary forces now shaping the economy. We are caught in a trap where debt burdens do not fall, but simply shift among sectors and countries, and where monetary policies alone are...

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Greece Without Illusions

ATHENS – “The costliest minor government reshuffle in Greece’s history.” That is at least one way to describe the result of the Greek general election on September 20. Indeed, with few exceptions, the same ministers have returned to the same offices as part of an administration backed by the same odd pair of parties (the left-wing Syriza and the smaller right-wing Independent Greeks), which received only a slightly lower share of the vote than the previous administration. But the appearance...

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