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Most important event of 2020? The US election

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TweetAn interview question from Chosun Ilbo (the #1 Korean newspaper) for the New Year:   Which political event of 2020 should concern us the most? (E.g., the U.S. presidential election, the geopolitical crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Brexit…?) My response: Perhaps I am too US-centric.  But out of all events in 2020, I see November’s presidential election in the United States as warranting the greatest concern, not just for my home country but for the world. To recap briefly a familiar story, in the 2nd half of the 20th century, a majority of countries enjoyed a historic path of relative peace and prosperity, broadly speaking.  This was largely the result of a liberal multilateral system which had been consciously designed after World War II to avoid mistakes that had been made after

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An interview question from Chosun Ilbo (the #1 Korean newspaper) for the New Year:   Which political event of 2020 should concern us the most? (E.g., the U.S. presidential election, the geopolitical crisis on the Korean Peninsula, Brexit…?)

My response:

Perhaps I am too US-centric.  But out of all events in 2020, I see November’s presidential election in the United States as warranting the greatest concern, not just for my home country but for the world.

To recap briefly a familiar story, in the 2nd half of the 20th century, a majority of countries enjoyed a historic path of relative peace and prosperity, broadly speaking.  This was largely the result of a liberal multilateral system which had been consciously designed after World War II to avoid mistakes that had been made after World War I.  American leadership was an important factor, notwithstanding such awful stumbles as the Vietnam War, the invasion of Iraq, and the Global Financial Crisis.  Now Donald Trump (and his imitators) are dismantling that system, having forgotten the lessons of the 20th century.

If Trump remains president, it is hard to be optimistic about global progress in many areas, including trade and production, financial stability, environment, human development, and stopping nuclear proliferation. To the contrary, I would in that case fear a widespread deterioration in conditions, including problems in the Korean peninsula and many other regions.

My prediction as to the outcome of the US presidential contest?   Election outcomes are to me akin to coin-flips. Having said that, Donald Trump’s candidacy has a natural disadvantage: he is the worst president in US history and much of the electorate senses that.  Accordingly, he should be easy to beat. But a major chunk of Republican voters feel differently. The election will be determined by those in the middle: independently registered voters and “moderates.”

As I see it, the only thing that could get Trump re-elected is if the Democrats choose as their candidate someone who scares off the voters in the middle.  That would be someone who calls himself a socialist, as Bernie Sanders does, or who supports the same policies, such as the proposal to disallow private health insurance.  The median American voter won’t go for such a candidate.  If I am right, the consequences of a far-left nominee would be dire.

Jeffrey Frankel
Jeffrey Frankel, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, previously served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. He directs the Program in International Finance and Macroeconomics at the US National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a member of the Business Cycle Dating Committee, the official US arbiter of recession and recovery.

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