lunes, 28 de septiembre de 2009

Venezuela Macro Outlook (September 28, 2009)

Abajo está mi presentación más reciente acerca del entorno económico venezolano. Para aquellos que no tengan suficiente tiempo para leer las 35 láminas (cosa que le suele suceder a mi amigo Enrique Pardo), aquí hay un breve resumen ejecutivo:

En términos de crecimiento de la producción y el consumo:
- El boom petrolero registrado entre 2004-2008 le permitió al país niveles de consumo que no guardaban relación con sus niveles de producción
- En 11 años el consumo ha crecido 74,3%, la producción apenas creció 28,3%
- Ese distanciamiento es mucho más evidente cuando se considera en términos per cápita: Mientras la producción per cápita ha crecido 6,37% entre 1998-2009 años (apenas 0,56% anual); el consumo per cápita ha crecido 36,7% (3,05% anual)
- La única forma de consumir sin producir es a través del boom de importaciones, que ayudó además a mantener la inflación baja y devastó la producción nacional
- En la medida en que los ingresos petroleros se reducen, se empieza a registrar una alineación entre el crecimiento de nuestro consumo y el de nuestra producción (este último muy limitado por la ausencia de inversión productiva)

En términos de la actitud del gobierno hacia el mercado paralelo (pan para hoy, hambre para mañana):
- Para tratar de mantener la economía a flote el gobierno emitirá en 2009 US$15+ billones de deuda externa y otros US$15 billones de deuda interna
- Esa cantidad equivale a contratar en sólo un año más deuda que toda la que tenía acumulada la república en su historia para el año 1998 (US$27.7 millones)
- Ese endeudamiento indiscriminado y la significativa pérdida de reservas internacionales, han servido para amortiguar la caída en el consumo, pero no pueden ser implementados de forma sostenida
- Entre Enero-Abril, los egresos de tesorería del gobierno central cayeron 6,6% en términos nominales y 26,4% en términos reales (vs. el mismo período 2008)
- En la medida en que se aproxima la campaña electoral 2010 el gasto público y la liquidez crecerán, obligando al gobierno a: a) endeudarse aún más, b) quemar una cantidad mayor de reservas, c) permitir que se deslice el dólar paralelo y se acelere la inflación, o d) una combinación de las anteriores
- Hasta ahora todo indica que el gobierno favorecerá el crecimiento a costa de una inflación/depreciación más acelerada en lo que está por venir

Más adelante...
- En términos de crecimiento, no hay mucho espacio para ser optimista aún a mediano plazo y con buenos precios petroleros, porque la inversión privada se encuentra en su punto mínimo en la historia, por debajo de la depreciación, y para 2008 ya se estaba operando a capacidad instalada…
- El mejor escenario para Venezuela es que suban los precios y se promueva más el consumo a punta de importaciones … pero los pronósticos no son tan optimistas …
Las nacionalizaciones, estatizaciones, confiscaciones y otras modalidades que vendrán limitarán aún más el potencial de crecimiento de la economía venezolana…
- En términos de empleo, el Estado se verá obligado a seguir siendo el Gran Empleador, pero sin los recursos de 2007-2008 no tiene capacidad para mantener los salarios al ritmo de la inflación …
- El mercado paralelo no tiene punto de equilibrio … no bajo el actual esquema

La economía venezolana no es sostenible, pero sigue avanzando …

viernes, 25 de septiembre de 2009

I Semestre 2009: ¿Cómo hemos sobrevivido con el petróleo a 46?

Abajo un artículo que escribí para la Revista Debates IESA, desde la semana que viene en la calle, acerca del proceso de endeudamiento progresivo e indiscriminado que ha seguido el gobierno para tratar de mantener la economía a flote durante el primer semestre del año.

jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2009

Alí Baba y las cuarenta medidas

Sólo seis meses después de aquél primer paquete destinado a preservar la inmunidad de nuestra economía (todo un oxímoron) y ya estamos de nuevo ante una nueva tanda de ajustes. Esta vez serían “cuarenta medidas”, más tarde se dijo que cincuenta y seis. Vendrá a ser algo así como las 5.478 obras de gobierno de Barreto en la Alcaldía: Dotación de lápices y sacapuntas, limpieza de quebradas, un par de marroncitos, entrega de uniformes, etc.

¿Habrá algo significativo? La venta de bonos para tratar de cerrar la brecha entre el dólar oficial y el paralelo no es nueva. Tampoco es algo que pueda dar resultados más allá de unos meses. Endeudarse para vender dólares baratos a quienes tienen bolívares sobrantes es una política sin perspectiva que propiciará la bancarrota (de todos nosotros, los países no quiebran). El Presidente prometerá pagos a proveedores de PDVSA y la emisión de títulos globales destina a recoger excedentes de liquidez. Tómese en cuenta que el Ministerio de Finanzas no es el BCV. Esta no es una operación de absorción, es de financiamiento. El dinero volverá a circular más temprano que tarde, ejerciendo presión sobre el mercado paralelo.

La relación liquidez a reservas, que siempre ha guardado un asombroso parecido con el paralelo, se encuentra ahora en 6,48. El gobierno le ha pedido ya al BCV que reduzca el “nivel mínimo adecuado de reservas”, esa abstracción teórica que justifica el atraco de sus arcas, en 6.000 millones de dólares. Ese traslado podría llevar la relación a 7,89 en una tarde.

También habrá anuncios sobre la creación de nuevas líneas de crédito. Se anunciará un nuevo “plan de empleo”, el noveno o el décimo de la era Chávez. Los lineamientos del plan no pasarán por una mayor contratación de empleados públicos, ni tampoco por una reactivación del sector privado. Se ofrecerán a los empresarios algunas ventajas fiscales que vienen a ser algo así como prometerles que los leones van a tener las uñas limadas.

No habrá nada orientado a resolver nuestra inercia productiva. Entre el primer semestre de este año y el primero de 1998 el producto del país ha crecido 6,48%, equivalentes a 0,57% anual. Según el BCV, el índice de salarios ya corregido por inflación se encuentra ahora 15,7% por debajo de hace once años. En los últimos doce meses el poder adquisitivo del salario de los trabajadores venezolanos cayó 8,7%. La inversión privada se dejó de publicar tras tocar su mínimo histórico en 2004. Hace tiempo que el país viene rodando en E, destruyendo su propia capacidad productiva. Eso es lo que ha quedado de la enorme bonanza petrolera. ¿Qué puede anunciar la tarde de un viernes cualquiera que pueda revertir ese proceso? ¿La reorganización de ministerios?

Habrá mucha fanfarria, mucha micro-empresa, mucha producción cooperativa social, la intensión de acelerar los pagos de CADIVI, acaso también un impuesto a la compra de divisas para viajeros. Nada material. Si cuando la cadena termine usted todavía está despierto, si mira sus notas y no reconoce nada significativo, si empieza a llamar conocidos para verificar que no se le escapó nada (“¿tu qué oíste?”), entonces lo captó bien. Al igual que marzo, lo más importante va a ser lo que no diga.

Para El Universal, 25/09/2009

miércoles, 23 de septiembre de 2009

Reporte Petrolero Primer Semestre 2009; Ramón Espinasa

La producción en las áreas tradicionales de PDVSA es la menor de los últimos veinticinco años. Al incorporar la producción de las Asociaciones Estratégicas es la menor de los últimos veinte años. La reducción pronunciada en la actividad de taladros, asociada a la expropiación y desmantelamiento de las actividades conexas en Occidente y Oriente a lo largo del primer semestre, augura que la caída discreta en la producción de los últimos meses será de carácter estructural, difícilmente se revertirá en el corto plazo.

Las exportaciones del país siguen cayendo más aceleradamente que la producción por el aumento sostenido del aumento del consumo doméstico por las razones elaboradas en reportes anteriores y en magnitudes ahora corroboradas por agencias internacionales.

La caída de las exportaciones a Estados Unidos de la última década se aceleró en el último lustro. Sin embargo la caída de las exportaciones a Estados Unidos es menos acelerada que la caída de las exportaciones totales. Con lo cual, las exportaciones de Venezuela tienden a concentrarse en exportaciones a Estados Unidos. Esto es por razones estrictamente económicas, primero, las exportaciones de las Asociaciones Estratégicas van por diseño a refinerías en Estados Unidos, y éstas son una fracción creciente de las exportaciones totales, y, segundo, las economías que para PDVSA brinda el sistema CITGO, diseñado para valorizar los crudos nacionales, los cuales se venderían a menores precios en otros destinos.

En el ínterin Estados Unidos ha diversificado sus mercados de importación y es hoy menos dependiente de las importaciones de Venezuela. La participación del país en las importaciones de Estados Unidos se ha reducido a la mitad en la última década. En conclusión, Estados Unidos es menos dependiente de sus importaciones de Venezuela y Venezuela más dependiente de sus exportaciones a Estados Unidos.

jueves, 17 de septiembre de 2009

¿Otro así? ¡Ni en 1,000 años! La era de lo impensable

¿Otro así? Bueno, de acuerdo con los cálculos de los expertos, los estimados son que no sería antes de un intervalo de mil años. Ni una coma, ni tan siquiera un número impar, que diera la impresión de que allí se había hecho un cálculo, de que aunque fuese en la parte de atrás de un sobre destinado a la correspondencia de la Misión Negra Hipólita, alguien se había tomado la molestia de hacer un cálculo que le sirviera de fundamento. Lo impensable, que ocurriera otro temblor en esa magnitud, ya ocurrió.

Unos minutos después del temblor, las pantallas de nuestros canales de televisión mostraban imágenes de esas que en inglés se llaman disturbing, y que viene a ser algo así como perturbadoras, aunque esa palabra no sea tan común en español como aquella en inglés. En Globovisión, un tipo tratando de abrirse paso en medio de la calle, el agua hasta el cuello, y por detrás de él los carros anegados de agua, algunos flotando ya libremente. En VTV, una joven corresponsal con una suerte de poncho, cuya propia apariencia ya delataba algo de percance, con una sonrisa de yeso, mostrándole al país que todo estaba completamente normal, véase como fluyen los carros en esta arteria vial de la capital (vaya usted a saber cuál); y denunciando la actitud de algunos “medios opositores”, tratando de crear un clima de inestabilidad y zozobra a través de la transmisión de imágenes de archivo.

Ese es el país de estos días. La verdad como tal, no existe. Sin querer caer en resbaladizos y esquivos argumentos kantianos, ya ni tan si quiera vamos a ser capaces de conocer las consecuencias de un movimiento sísmico. Ahora lo único impensable es que lo que uno está viendo en las pantallas sea lo que en realidad está ocurriendo.

Joshua Cooper Ramo ha escrito un libro que se llama La era de lo impensable: ¿Por qué el nuevo desorden mundial continúa sorprendiéndonos y qué podemos hacer al respecto? Se trata precisamente de entender cómo está constituido el nuevo desorden mundial, y cómo podemos hacer para sobrevivir en ese entorno. Y que conste, Cooper Ramo jamás llegó a hablar con Jesse Chacón, jamás ha visto a las vacas que se trajeron de Argentina hundirse en las costas de Puerto Cabello y aparecer meses después flotando muertas en las playas de Chichiriviche, ni tampoco ha asistido a una conferencia de Lina Ron en UPV. El habla de que lo impensable ocurre, y qué hacemos, y nosotros aquí hablamos de no tener idea de lo que ocurre.

El libro tiene bastante más éxito describiendo que prescribiendo. Sin embargo, sus tres sugerencias bien vale la pena el esfuerzo de la lectura. Prestar más atención al contexto en el que ocurren las cosas, que a las cosas en sí mismas. Desarrollar la resiliencia, la capacidad de recibir y acomodar golpes. Eso, por ejemplo, es lo que han venido haciendo un grupo de emigrantes españoles en Valencia, armando una cooperativa para responder a secuestros, en donde cada uno guarda cierta cantidad de bolívares fuertes en efectivo, y los pone a la disposición de los demás cuando les secuestran un ser querido. Y por último, aprovechar la enorme capacidad que la tecnología de hoy le da a un hombre sólo, de hacer una diferencia. Para bien o para mal.

Para El Universal, 17/09/2009

domingo, 13 de septiembre de 2009

Guest Columnist: Ricardo Villasmil, El diario imaginario de Giordani

No fueron más de cinco o siete minutos, y además siempre empezábamos con retraso. Aún así, le dije a José Gregorio que me dejara en las escaleras laterales para llegar más rápido al salón. Siempre he considerado la tardanza como un desprecio silente y una de las taras culturales de nuestro pueblo a las cuales me resisto a sucumbir. Moriré siendo el viejo idiota que no se come la luz. Vaya orgullo.
-Sí, Doctor Giordani, ya son las 9am, pero no se preocupe. El Presidente viene con retraso. ¿Cómo dice? No, si quiere pase al salón, el Dr. Merentes y el Dr. Rodríguez entraron hace un ratico. Allí hay el café recién hecho y ya fueron a buscar pastelitos de los que le gustaron al Presidente la reunión anterior.
Entré al salón y dejé el maletín en el mesón. Nelson y Alí conversaban con una agitación casi clandestina, pero mi presencia no los detuvo.
-Y qué ganamos con esa vaina – le preguntó de manera retórica y no sin ironía Nelson. Será una cagadita de mercado, pero sigue siendo un mercado. Todos los días la gente compra y vende a ese precio y nadie va a ser tan pendejo para pagar 6600 bolos por algo que vale ¿cuatro mil es que dices tú?
-No, yo no, eso es lo que dice Armando León, uno de tus directores…
-¿Y tú? ¿Tú qué crees?
-¿Yo? Que es un tema de expectativas. Tú puedes sacar un tronco de emisión y vender un pocotón de dólares, y claro, vas a bajar el paralelo ese día y esa semana, ponte tú que hasta ese mes. ¿Pero después qué? Los oligarcas no son pendejos, Alí, leen periódico, ven CNN, Bloomberg y cuanta vaina hay y, por si fuera poco, oyen a la parejita Penzini todas las tardes.
-Coño sí -dice entre risas Alí. Los tienen endiosados…
-A mí también me parece insólito, pero qué carajos. Mientras la economía gringa no levante, el precio del petróleo va a seguir moviéndose por ahí, y por tanto, ellos saben que tarde o temprano nos vamos a quedar sin dólares y que el precio del paralelo va a volver a subir.
-No creo que la vaina sea tan matemática, le responde sin mucha convicción Alí.
-¿No? Te quedas limpio y lo peor es que más allá de enriquecer a los importadores, no habrás logrado un carajo. De Víctor Álvarez pueden decir cualquier cosa, pero tiene razón. ¿Tú crees que porque bajes un mes el paralelo los precios de las vainas van a bajar? ¡No me jodas! Ellos van a seguir calculando su dólar a 10 mil…
- ¿Entonces qué? ¿No hacemos nada?
- Ah, no sé. Eso ya es peo de ustedes.

ricardovillasmil@gmail.com

jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2009

Mercado Paralelo: Nuevos Ricos Habituales

Nelson Merentes se dio una vuelta por el Ministerio de Finanzas hace unos días, a ver “¿qué están haciendo ustedes para bajar el paralelo?”. “¿Cuál es la estrategia?”. Eso mismo, claro está, se lo han podido preguntar a él. Porque “la estrategia”, según el diccionario de términos del Presidente del BCV, tiene por objetivo bajar la cotización del dólar paralelo sin hacer nada por devolverle la confianza al país (todo lo contrario), subir las tasas de interés, o liquidar más divisas (con cargo a reservas). Algo, dicho sea de paso, que no está contemplado en los libros de economía, ya sea en los de verdad o en los que ellos dicen que han leído. “¡Piensen! ¡Pónganse creativos!”.

El gobierno no es capaz de entender el mercado paralelo, porque tiene características que escapan a la lógica que predomina en su concepción de la política pública. El mercado paralelo no obedece órdenes, no se puede mandar allí a ningún militar a “poner orden” (¡menos mal!), no se puede regular por decreto. No hay forma de establecer, por ejemplo, inamovilidad en el dólar paralelo, no hay “paralelo máximo”, paralelo socialista, nada por el estilo. Más importante aún, la divulgación del dólar paralelo no es monopolio del Estado. No pueden encargarle a Elías El Juri, o al propio Merentes, que den con un mecanismo matemático-estadístico para su estimación, que le permita ser exhibido en la vitrina de trofeos del gobierno, junto a la inversión privada, la producción petrolera, el desempleo o la inflación. Por el contrario, el paralelo tiene la característica de reaccionar de forma negativa a cualquier intento por manipularlo que escape a la esfera de la economía. Si lo prohiben, incapaces de tolerar lo que no pueden controlar, la prima por riesgo será aún mayor.

Lo único que el Ministerio de Finanzas puede hacer, así le fue comunicado a Merentes, es emitir deuda soberana denominada en dólares y venderla en bolívares en el mercado local. Nada creativo, por cierto. La cantidad, unos 3.000 millones de dólares, tendría sobre el mercado paralelo un efecto similar a la emisión de Petrobonos: Ninguno. Pero con varios matices. En primer lugar, el gobierno sigue cayendo en la práctica inútil de Luis Herrera Campíns: endeudarse para financiar salidas de capitales. En segundo lugar, si el paralelo no va a bajar, ¿por qué lo hacen? Al igual que en el Petrobono, quienes consigan entrar en la asignación de divisas de la emisión van a realizar una ganancia inmediata. Esa es la forma en la que se viene distribuyendo la riqueza instantánea desde hace algún tiempo entre un grupo de bancos y casas de bolsa.

Este curioso mecanismo de fabricar ricos supera al de la Gran Venezuela (al menos aquellos tenían que producir algo) y en el futuro será fuente de investigación (académica, quiero decir) con deslumbrante resultado. Porque además, si hay alguien que controla en alguna medida el mercado paralelo son precisamente ellos. En la mayoría de los casos es la propia cohorte empresarial del Estado socialista la que ocupa la primera fila cuando de sacar capitales fuera de Venezuela se trata. Son unos nuevos ricos ya no tan nuevos, y sí bastante habituales en las subastas de divisas.

Para El Universal, 11/09/2009

martes, 8 de septiembre de 2009

Paul Krugman; How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?

I. MISTAKING BEAUTY FOR TRUTH

It’s hard to believe now, but not long ago economists were congratulating themselves over the success of their field. Those successes — or so they believed — were both theoretical and practical, leading to a golden era for the profession. On the theoretical side, they thought that they had resolved their internal disputes. Thus, in a 2008 paper titled “The State of Macro” (that is, macroeconomics, the study of big-picture issues like recessions), Olivier Blanchard of M.I.T., now the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, declared that “the state of macro is good.” The battles of yesteryear, he said, were over, and there had been a “broad convergence of vision.” And in the real world, economists believed they had things under control: the “central problem of depression-prevention has been solved,” declared Robert Lucas of the University of Chicago in his 2003 presidential address to the American Economic Association. In 2004, Ben Bernanke, a former Princeton professor who is now the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, celebrated the Great Moderation in economic performance over the previous two decades, which he attributed in part to improved economic policy making.

Last year, everything came apart.

Few economists saw our current crisis coming, but this predictive failure was the least of the field’s problems. More important was the profession’s blindness to the very possibility of catastrophic failures in a market economy. During the golden years, financial economists came to believe that markets were inherently stable — indeed, that stocks and other assets were always priced just right. There was nothing in the prevailing models suggesting the possibility of the kind of collapse that happened last year. Meanwhile, macroeconomists were divided in their views. But the main division was between those who insisted that free-market economies never go astray and those who believed that economies may stray now and then but that any major deviations from the path of prosperity could and would be corrected by the all-powerful Fed. Neither side was prepared to cope with an economy that went off the rails despite the Fed’s best efforts.

And in the wake of the crisis, the fault lines in the economics profession have yawned wider than ever. Lucas says the Obama administration’s stimulus plans are “schlock economics,” and his Chicago colleague John Cochrane says they’re based on discredited “fairy tales.” In response, Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley, writes of the “intellectual collapse” of the Chicago School, and I myself have written that comments from Chicago economists are the product of a Dark Age of macroeconomics in which hard-won knowledge has been forgotten.

What happened to the economics profession? And where does it go from here?

As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression, most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn’t sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations. The renewed romance with the idealized market was, to be sure, partly a response to shifting political winds, partly a response to financial incentives. But while sabbaticals at the Hoover Institution and job opportunities on Wall Street are nothing to sneeze at, the central cause of the profession’s failure was the desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess.

Unfortunately, this romanticized and sanitized vision of the economy led most economists to ignore all the things that can go wrong. They turned a blind eye to the limitations of human rationality that often lead to bubbles and busts; to the problems of institutions that run amok; to the imperfections of markets — especially financial markets — that can cause the economy’s operating system to undergo sudden, unpredictable crashes; and to the dangers created when regulators don’t believe in regulation.

It’s much harder to say where the economics profession goes from here. But what’s almost certain is that economists will have to learn to live with messiness. That is, they will have to acknowledge the importance of irrational and often unpredictable behavior, face up to the often idiosyncratic imperfections of markets and accept that an elegant economic “theory of everything” is a long way off. In practical terms, this will translate into more cautious policy advice — and a reduced willingness to dismantle economic safeguards in the faith that markets will solve all problems.

II. FROM SMITH TO KEYNES AND BACK

The birth of economics as a discipline is usually credited to Adam Smith, who published “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776. Over the next 160 years an extensive body of economic theory was developed, whose central message was: Trust the market. Yes, economists admitted that there were cases in which markets might fail, of which the most important was the case of “externalities” — costs that people impose on others without paying the price, like traffic congestion or pollution. But the basic presumption of “neoclassical” economics (named after the late-19th-century theorists who elaborated on the concepts of their “classical” predecessors) was that we should have faith in the market system.

This faith was, however, shattered by the Great Depression. Actually, even in the face of total collapse some economists insisted that whatever happens in a market economy must be right: “Depressions are not simply evils,” declared Joseph Schumpeter in 1934 — 1934! They are, he added, “forms of something which has to be done.” But many, and eventually most, economists turned to the insights of John Maynard Keynes for both an explanation of what had happened and a solution to future depressions.

Keynes did not, despite what you may have heard, want the government to run the economy. He described his analysis in his 1936 masterwork, “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,” as “moderately conservative in its implications.” He wanted to fix capitalism, not replace it. But he did challenge the notion that free-market economies can function without a minder, expressing particular contempt for financial markets, which he viewed as being dominated by short-term speculation with little regard for fundamentals. And he called for active government intervention — printing more money and, if necessary, spending heavily on public works — to fight unemployment during slumps.

It’s important to understand that Keynes did much more than make bold assertions. “The General Theory” is a work of profound, deep analysis — analysis that persuaded the best young economists of the day. Yet the story of economics over the past half century is, to a large degree, the story of a retreat from Keynesianism and a return to neoclassicism. The neoclassical revival was initially led by Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, who asserted as early as 1953 that neoclassical economics works well enough as a description of the way the economy actually functions to be “both extremely fruitful and deserving of much confidence.” But what about depressions?

Friedman’s counterattack against Keynes began with the doctrine known as monetarism. Monetarists didn’t disagree in principle with the idea that a market economy needs deliberate stabilization. “We are all Keynesians now,” Friedman once said, although he later claimed he was quoted out of context. Monetarists asserted, however, that a very limited, circumscribed form of government intervention — namely, instructing central banks to keep the nation’s money supply, the sum of cash in circulation and bank deposits, growing on a steady path — is all that’s required to prevent depressions. Famously, Friedman and his collaborator, Anna Schwartz, argued that if the Federal Reserve had done its job properly, the Great Depression would not have happened. Later, Friedman made a compelling case against any deliberate effort by government to push unemployment below its “natural” level (currently thought to be about 4.8 percent in the United States): excessively expansionary policies, he predicted, would lead to a combination of inflation and high unemployment — a prediction that was borne out by the stagflation of the 1970s, which greatly advanced the credibility of the anti-Keynesian movement.

Eventually, however, the anti-Keynesian counterrevolution went far beyond Friedman’s position, which came to seem relatively moderate compared with what his successors were saying. Among financial economists, Keynes’s disparaging vision of financial markets as a “casino” was replaced by “efficient market” theory, which asserted that financial markets always get asset prices right given the available information. Meanwhile, many macroeconomists completely rejected Keynes’s framework for understanding economic slumps. Some returned to the view of Schumpeter and other apologists for the Great Depression, viewing recessions as a good thing, part of the economy’s adjustment to change. And even those not willing to go that far argued that any attempt to fight an economic slump would do more harm than good.

Not all macroeconomists were willing to go down this road: many became self-described New Keynesians, who continued to believe in an active role for the government. Yet even they mostly accepted the notion that investors and consumers are rational and that markets generally get it right.

Of course, there were exceptions to these trends: a few economists challenged the assumption of rational behavior, questioned the belief that financial markets can be trusted and pointed to the long history of financial crises that had devastating economic consequences. But they were swimming against the tide, unable to make much headway against a pervasive and, in retrospect, foolish complacency.

III. PANGLOSSIAN FINANCE

In the 1930s, financial markets, for obvious reasons, didn’t get much respect. Keynes compared them to “those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those that he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors.”

And Keynes considered it a very bad idea to let such markets, in which speculators spent their time chasing one another’s tails, dictate important business decisions: “When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.”

By 1970 or so, however, the study of financial markets seemed to have been taken over by Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss, who insisted that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Discussion of investor irrationality, of bubbles, of destructive speculation had virtually disappeared from academic discourse. The field was dominated by the “efficient-market hypothesis,” promulgated by Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago, which claims that financial markets price assets precisely at their intrinsic worth given all publicly available information. (The price of a company’s stock, for example, always accurately reflects the company’s value given the information available on the company’s earnings, its business prospects and so on.) And by the 1980s, finance economists, notably Michael Jensen of the Harvard Business School, were arguing that because financial markets always get prices right, the best thing corporate chieftains can do, not just for themselves but for the sake of the economy, is to maximize their stock prices. In other words, finance economists believed that we should put the capital development of the nation in the hands of what Keynes had called a “casino.”

It’s hard to argue that this transformation in the profession was driven by events. True, the memory of 1929 was gradually receding, but there continued to be bull markets, with widespread tales of speculative excess, followed by bear markets. In 1973-4, for example, stocks lost 48 percent of their value. And the 1987 stock crash, in which the Dow plunged nearly 23 percent in a day for no clear reason, should have raised at least a few doubts about market rationality.

These events, however, which Keynes would have considered evidence of the unreliability of markets, did little to blunt the force of a beautiful idea. The theoretical model that finance economists developed by assuming that every investor rationally balances risk against reward — the so-called Capital Asset Pricing Model, or CAPM (pronounced cap-em) — is wonderfully elegant. And if you accept its premises it’s also extremely useful. CAPM not only tells you how to choose your portfolio — even more important from the financial industry’s point of view, it tells you how to put a price on financial derivatives, claims on claims. The elegance and apparent usefulness of the new theory led to a string of Nobel prizes for its creators, and many of the theory’s adepts also received more mundane rewards: Armed with their new models and formidable math skills — the more arcane uses of CAPM require physicist-level computations — mild-mannered business-school professors could and did become Wall Street rocket scientists, earning Wall Street paychecks.

To be fair, finance theorists didn’t accept the efficient-market hypothesis merely because it was elegant, convenient and lucrative. They also produced a great deal of statistical evidence, which at first seemed strongly supportive. But this evidence was of an oddly limited form. Finance economists rarely asked the seemingly obvious (though not easily answered) question of whether asset prices made sense given real-world fundamentals like earnings. Instead, they asked only whether asset prices made sense given other asset prices. Larry Summers, now the top economic adviser in the Obama administration, once mocked finance professors with a parable about “ketchup economists” who “have shown that two-quart bottles of ketchup invariably sell for exactly twice as much as one-quart bottles of ketchup,” and conclude from this that the ketchup market is perfectly efficient.

But neither this mockery nor more polite critiques from economists like Robert Shiller of Yale had much effect. Finance theorists continued to believe that their models were essentially right, and so did many people making real-world decisions. Not least among these was Alan Greenspan, who was then the Fed chairman and a long-time supporter of financial deregulation whose rejection of calls to rein in subprime lending or address the ever-inflating housing bubble rested in large part on the belief that modern financial economics had everything under control. There was a telling moment in 2005, at a conference held to honor Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed. One brave attendee, Raghuram Rajan (of the University of Chicago, surprisingly), presented a paper warning that the financial system was taking on potentially dangerous levels of risk. He was mocked by almost all present — including, by the way, Larry Summers, who dismissed his warnings as “misguided.”

By October of last year, however, Greenspan was admitting that he was in a state of “shocked disbelief,” because “the whole intellectual edifice” had “collapsed.” Since this collapse of the intellectual edifice was also a collapse of real-world markets, the result was a severe recession — the worst, by many measures, since the Great Depression. What should policy makers do? Unfortunately, macroeconomics, which should have been providing clear guidance about how to address the slumping economy, was in its own state of disarray.

IV. THE TROUBLE WITH MACRO

“We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand. The result is that our possibilities of wealth may run to waste for a time — perhaps for a long time.” So wrote John Maynard Keynes in an essay titled “The Great Slump of 1930,” in which he tried to explain the catastrophe then overtaking the world. And the world’s possibilities of wealth did indeed run to waste for a long time; it took World War II to bring the Great Depression to a definitive end.

Why was Keynes’s diagnosis of the Great Depression as a “colossal muddle” so compelling at first? And why did economics, circa 1975, divide into opposing camps over the value of Keynes’s views?

I like to explain the essence of Keynesian economics with a true story that also serves as a parable, a small-scale version of the messes that can afflict entire economies. Consider the travails of the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Co-op.

This co-op, whose problems were recounted in a 1977 article in The Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, was an association of about 150 young couples who agreed to help one another by baby-sitting for one another’s children when parents wanted a night out. To ensure that every couple did its fair share of baby-sitting, the co-op introduced a form of scrip: coupons made out of heavy pieces of paper, each entitling the bearer to one half-hour of sitting time. Initially, members received 20 coupons on joining and were required to return the same amount on departing the group.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the co-op’s members, on average, wanted to hold a reserve of more than 20 coupons, perhaps, in case they should want to go out several times in a row. As a result, relatively few people wanted to spend their scrip and go out, while many wanted to baby-sit so they could add to their hoard. But since baby-sitting opportunities arise only when someone goes out for the night, this meant that baby-sitting jobs were hard to find, which made members of the co-op even more reluctant to go out, making baby-sitting jobs even scarcer. . . .

In short, the co-op fell into a recession.

O.K., what do you think of this story? Don’t dismiss it as silly and trivial: economists have used small-scale examples to shed light on big questions ever since Adam Smith saw the roots of economic progress in a pin factory, and they’re right to do so. The question is whether this particular example, in which a recession is a problem of inadequate demand — there isn’t enough demand for baby-sitting to provide jobs for everyone who wants one — gets at the essence of what happens in a recession.

Forty years ago most economists would have agreed with this interpretation. But since then macroeconomics has divided into two great factions: “saltwater” economists (mainly in coastal U.S. universities), who have a more or less Keynesian vision of what recessions are all about; and “freshwater” economists (mainly at inland schools), who consider that vision nonsense.

Freshwater economists are, essentially, neoclassical purists. They believe that all worthwhile economic analysis starts from the premise that people are rational and markets work, a premise violated by the story of the baby-sitting co-op. As they see it, a general lack of sufficient demand isn’t possible, because prices always move to match supply with demand. If people want more baby-sitting coupons, the value of those coupons will rise, so that they’re worth, say, 40 minutes of baby-sitting rather than half an hour — or, equivalently, the cost of an hours’ baby-sitting would fall from 2 coupons to 1.5. And that would solve the problem: the purchasing power of the coupons in circulation would have risen, so that people would feel no need to hoard more, and there would be no recession.

But don’t recessions look like periods in which there just isn’t enough demand to employ everyone willing to work? Appearances can be deceiving, say the freshwater theorists. Sound economics, in their view, says that overall failures of demand can’t happen — and that means that they don’t. Keynesian economics has been “proved false,” Cochrane, of the University of Chicago, says.

Yet recessions do happen. Why? In the 1970s the leading freshwater macroeconomist, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas, argued that recessions were caused by temporary confusion: workers and companies had trouble distinguishing overall changes in the level of prices because of inflation or deflation from changes in their own particular business situation. And Lucas warned that any attempt to fight the business cycle would be counterproductive: activist policies, he argued, would just add to the confusion.

By the 1980s, however, even this severely limited acceptance of the idea that recessions are bad things had been rejected by many freshwater economists. Instead, the new leaders of the movement, especially Edward Prescott, who was then at the University of Minnesota (you can see where the freshwater moniker comes from), argued that price fluctuations and changes in demand actually had nothing to do with the business cycle. Rather, the business cycle reflects fluctuations in the rate of technological progress, which are amplified by the rational response of workers, who voluntarily work more when the environment is favorable and less when it’s unfavorable. Unemployment is a deliberate decision by workers to take time off.

Put baldly like that, this theory sounds foolish — was the Great Depression really the Great Vacation? And to be honest, I think it really is silly. But the basic premise of Prescott’s “real business cycle” theory was embedded in ingeniously constructed mathematical models, which were mapped onto real data using sophisticated statistical techniques, and the theory came to dominate the teaching of macroeconomics in many university departments. In 2004, reflecting the theory’s influence, Prescott shared a Nobel with Finn Kydland of Carnegie Mellon University.

Meanwhile, saltwater economists balked. Where the freshwater economists were purists, saltwater economists were pragmatists. While economists like N. Gregory Mankiw at Harvard, Olivier Blanchard at M.I.T. and David Romer at the University of California, Berkeley, acknowledged that it was hard to reconcile a Keynesian demand-side view of recessions with neoclassical theory, they found the evidence that recessions are, in fact, demand-driven too compelling to reject. So they were willing to deviate from the assumption of perfect markets or perfect rationality, or both, adding enough imperfections to accommodate a more or less Keynesian view of recessions. And in the saltwater view, active policy to fight recessions remained desirable.

But the self-described New Keynesian economists weren’t immune to the charms of rational individuals and perfect markets. They tried to keep their deviations from neoclassical orthodoxy as limited as possible. This meant that there was no room in the prevailing models for such things as bubbles and banking-system collapse. The fact that such things continued to happen in the real world — there was a terrible financial and macroeconomic crisis in much of Asia in 1997-8 and a depression-level slump in Argentina in 2002 — wasn’t reflected in the mainstream of New Keynesian thinking.

Even so, you might have thought that the differing worldviews of freshwater and saltwater economists would have put them constantly at loggerheads over economic policy. Somewhat surprisingly, however, between around 1985 and 2007 the disputes between freshwater and saltwater economists were mainly about theory, not action. The reason, I believe, is that New Keynesians, unlike the original Keynesians, didn’t think fiscal policy — changes in government spending or taxes — was needed to fight recessions. They believed that monetary policy, administered by the technocrats at the Fed, could provide whatever remedies the economy needed. At a 90th birthday celebration for Milton Friedman, Ben Bernanke, formerly a more or less New Keynesian professor at Princeton, and by then a member of the Fed’s governing board, declared of the Great Depression: “You’re right. We did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, it won’t happen again.” The clear message was that all you need to avoid depressions is a smarter Fed.

And as long as macroeconomic policy was left in the hands of the maestro Greenspan, without Keynesian-type stimulus programs, freshwater economists found little to complain about. (They didn’t believe that monetary policy did any good, but they didn’t believe it did any harm, either.)

It would take a crisis to reveal both how little common ground there was and how Panglossian even New Keynesian economics had become.

V. NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED . . .

In recent, rueful economics discussions, an all-purpose punch line has become “nobody could have predicted. . . .” It’s what you say with regard to disasters that could have been predicted, should have been predicted and actually were predicted by a few economists who were scoffed at for their pains.

Take, for example, the precipitous rise and fall of housing prices. Some economists, notably Robert Shiller, did identify the bubble and warn of painful consequences if it were to burst. Yet key policy makers failed to see the obvious. In 2004, Alan Greenspan dismissed talk of a housing bubble: “a national severe price distortion,” he declared, was “most unlikely.” Home-price increases, Ben Bernanke said in 2005, “largely reflect strong economic fundamentals.”

How did they miss the bubble? To be fair, interest rates were unusually low, possibly explaining part of the price rise. It may be that Greenspan and Bernanke also wanted to celebrate the Fed’s success in pulling the economy out of the 2001 recession; conceding that much of that success rested on the creation of a monstrous bubble would have placed a damper on the festivities.

But there was something else going on: a general belief that bubbles just don’t happen. What’s striking, when you reread Greenspan’s assurances, is that they weren’t based on evidence — they were based on the a priori assertion that there simply can’t be a bubble in housing. And the finance theorists were even more adamant on this point. In a 2007 interview, Eugene Fama, the father of the efficient-market hypothesis, declared that “the word ‘bubble’ drives me nuts,” and went on to explain why we can trust the housing market: “Housing markets are less liquid, but people are very careful when they buy houses. It’s typically the biggest investment they’re going to make, so they look around very carefully and they compare prices. The bidding process is very detailed.”

Indeed, home buyers generally do carefully compare prices — that is, they compare the price of their potential purchase with the prices of other houses. But this says nothing about whether the overall price of houses is justified. It’s ketchup economics, again: because a two-quart bottle of ketchup costs twice as much as a one-quart bottle, finance theorists declare that the price of ketchup must be right.

In short, the belief in efficient financial markets blinded many if not most economists to the emergence of the biggest financial bubble in history. And efficient-market theory also played a significant role in inflating that bubble in the first place.

Now that the undiagnosed bubble has burst, the true riskiness of supposedly safe assets has been revealed and the financial system has demonstrated its fragility. U.S. households have seen $13 trillion in wealth evaporate. More than six million jobs have been lost, and the unemployment rate appears headed for its highest level since 1940. So what guidance does modern economics have to offer in our current predicament? And should we trust it?

VI. THE STIMULUS SQUABBLE

Between 1985 and 2007 a false peace settled over the field of macroeconomics. There hadn’t been any real convergence of views between the saltwater and freshwater factions. But these were the years of the Great Moderation — an extended period during which inflation was subdued and recessions were relatively mild. Saltwater economists believed that the Federal Reserve had everything under control. Fresh water economists didn’t think the Fed’s actions were actually beneficial, but they were willing to let matters lie.

But the crisis ended the phony peace. Suddenly the narrow, technocratic policies both sides were willing to accept were no longer sufficient — and the need for a broader policy response brought the old conflicts out into the open, fiercer than ever.

Why weren’t those narrow, technocratic policies sufficient? The answer, in a word, is zero.

During a normal recession, the Fed responds by buying Treasury bills — short-term government debt — from banks. This drives interest rates on government debt down; investors seeking a higher rate of return move into other assets, driving other interest rates down as well; and normally these lower interest rates eventually lead to an economic bounceback. The Fed dealt with the recession that began in 1990 by driving short-term interest rates from 9 percent down to 3 percent. It dealt with the recession that began in 2001 by driving rates from 6.5 percent to 1 percent. And it tried to deal with the current recession by driving rates down from 5.25 percent to zero.

But zero, it turned out, isn’t low enough to end this recession. And the Fed can’t push rates below zero, since at near-zero rates investors simply hoard cash rather than lending it out. So by late 2008, with interest rates basically at what macroeconomists call the “zero lower bound” even as the recession continued to deepen, conventional monetary policy had lost all traction.

Now what? This is the second time America has been up against the zero lower bound, the previous occasion being the Great Depression. And it was precisely the observation that there’s a lower bound to interest rates that led Keynes to advocate higher government spending: when monetary policy is ineffective and the private sector can’t be persuaded to spend more, the public sector must take its place in supporting the economy. Fiscal stimulus is the Keynesian answer to the kind of depression-type economic situation we’re currently in.

Such Keynesian thinking underlies the Obama administration’s economic policies — and the freshwater economists are furious. For 25 or so years they tolerated the Fed’s efforts to manage the economy, but a full-blown Keynesian resurgence was something entirely different. Back in 1980, Lucas, of the University of Chicago, wrote that Keynesian economics was so ludicrous that “at research seminars, people don’t take Keynesian theorizing seriously anymore; the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another.” Admitting that Keynes was largely right, after all, would be too humiliating a comedown.

And so Chicago’s Cochrane, outraged at the idea that government spending could mitigate the latest recession, declared: “It’s not part of what anybody has taught graduate students since the 1960s. They [Keynesian ideas] are fairy tales that have been proved false. It is very comforting in times of stress to go back to the fairy tales we heard as children, but it doesn’t make them less false.” (It’s a mark of how deep the division between saltwater and freshwater runs that Cochrane doesn’t believe that “anybody” teaches ideas that are, in fact, taught in places like Princeton, M.I.T. and Harvard.)

Meanwhile, saltwater economists, who had comforted themselves with the belief that the great divide in macroeconomics was narrowing, were shocked to realize that freshwater economists hadn’t been listening at all. Freshwater economists who inveighed against the stimulus didn’t sound like scholars who had weighed Keynesian arguments and found them wanting. Rather, they sounded like people who had no idea what Keynesian economics was about, who were resurrecting pre-1930 fallacies in the belief that they were saying something new and profound.

And it wasn’t just Keynes whose ideas seemed to have been forgotten. As Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley, has pointed out in his laments about the Chicago school’s “intellectual collapse,” the school’s current stance amounts to a wholesale rejection of Milton Friedman’s ideas, as well. Friedman believed that Fed policy rather than changes in government spending should be used to stabilize the economy, but he never asserted that an increase in government spending cannot, under any circumstances, increase employment. In fact, rereading Friedman’s 1970 summary of his ideas, “A Theoretical Framework for Monetary Analysis,” what’s striking is how Keynesian it seems.

And Friedman certainly never bought into the idea that mass unemployment represents a voluntary reduction in work effort or the idea that recessions are actually good for the economy. Yet the current generation of freshwater economists has been making both arguments. Thus Chicago’s Casey Mulligan suggests that unemployment is so high because many workers are choosing not to take jobs: “Employees face financial incentives that encourage them not to work . . . decreased employment is explained more by reductions in the supply of labor (the willingness of people to work) and less by the demand for labor (the number of workers that employers need to hire).” Mulligan has suggested, in particular, that workers are choosing to remain unemployed because that improves their odds of receiving mortgage relief. And Cochrane declares that high unemployment is actually good: “We should have a recession. People who spend their lives pounding nails in Nevada need something else to do.”

Personally, I think this is crazy. Why should it take mass unemployment across the whole nation to get carpenters to move out of Nevada? Can anyone seriously claim that we’ve lost 6.7 million jobs because fewer Americans want to work? But it was inevitable that freshwater economists would find themselves trapped in this cul-de-sac: if you start from the assumption that people are perfectly rational and markets are perfectly efficient, you have to conclude that unemployment is voluntary and recessions are desirable.

Yet if the crisis has pushed freshwater economists into absurdity, it has also created a lot of soul-searching among saltwater economists. Their framework, unlike that of the Chicago School, both allows for the possibility of involuntary unemployment and considers it a bad thing. But the New Keynesian models that have come to dominate teaching and research assume that people are perfectly rational and financial markets are perfectly efficient. To get anything like the current slump into their models, New Keynesians are forced to introduce some kind of fudge factor that for reasons unspecified temporarily depresses private spending. (I’ve done exactly that in some of my own work.) And if the analysis of where we are now rests on this fudge factor, how much confidence can we have in the models’ predictions about where we are going?

The state of macro, in short, is not good. So where does the profession go from here?

VII. FLAWS AND FRICTIONS

Economics, as a field, got in trouble because economists were seduced by the vision of a perfect, frictionless market system. If the profession is to redeem itself, it will have to reconcile itself to a less alluring vision — that of a market economy that has many virtues but that is also shot through with flaws and frictions. The good news is that we don’t have to start from scratch. Even during the heyday of perfect-market economics, there was a lot of work done on the ways in which the real economy deviated from the theoretical ideal. What’s probably going to happen now — in fact, it’s already happening — is that flaws-and-frictions economics will move from the periphery of economic analysis to its center.

There’s already a fairly well developed example of the kind of economics I have in mind: the school of thought known as behavioral finance. Practitioners of this approach emphasize two things. First, many real-world investors bear little resemblance to the cool calculators of efficient-market theory: they’re all too subject to herd behavior, to bouts of irrational exuberance and unwarranted panic. Second, even those who try to base their decisions on cool calculation often find that they can’t, that problems of trust, credibility and limited collateral force them to run with the herd.

On the first point: even during the heyday of the efficient-market hypothesis, it seemed obvious that many real-world investors aren’t as rational as the prevailing models assumed. Larry Summers once began a paper on finance by declaring: “THERE ARE IDIOTS. Look around.” But what kind of idiots (the preferred term in the academic literature, actually, is “noise traders”) are we talking about? Behavioral finance, drawing on the broader movement known as behavioral economics, tries to answer that question by relating the apparent irrationality of investors to known biases in human cognition, like the tendency to care more about small losses than small gains or the tendency to extrapolate too readily from small samples (e.g., assuming that because home prices rose in the past few years, they’ll keep on rising).

Until the crisis, efficient-market advocates like Eugene Fama dismissed the evidence produced on behalf of behavioral finance as a collection of “curiosity items” of no real importance. That’s a much harder position to maintain now that the collapse of a vast bubble — a bubble correctly diagnosed by behavioral economists like Robert Shiller of Yale, who related it to past episodes of “irrational exuberance” — has brought the world economy to its knees.

On the second point: suppose that there are, indeed, idiots. How much do they matter? Not much, argued Milton Friedman in an influential 1953 paper: smart investors will make money by buying when the idiots sell and selling when they buy and will stabilize markets in the process. But the second strand of behavioral finance says that Friedman was wrong, that financial markets are sometimes highly unstable, and right now that view seems hard to reject.

Probably the most influential paper in this vein was a 1997 publication by Andrei Shleifer of Harvard and Robert Vishny of Chicago, which amounted to a formalization of the old line that “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” As they pointed out, arbitrageurs — the people who are supposed to buy low and sell high — need capital to do their jobs. And a severe plunge in asset prices, even if it makes no sense in terms of fundamentals, tends to deplete that capital. As a result, the smart money is forced out of the market, and prices may go into a downward spiral.

The spread of the current financial crisis seemed almost like an object lesson in the perils of financial instability. And the general ideas underlying models of financial instability have proved highly relevant to economic policy: a focus on the depleted capital of financial institutions helped guide policy actions taken after the fall of Lehman, and it looks (cross your fingers) as if these actions successfully headed off an even bigger financial collapse.

Meanwhile, what about macroeconomics? Recent events have pretty decisively refuted the idea that recessions are an optimal response to fluctuations in the rate of technological progress; a more or less Keynesian view is the only plausible game in town. Yet standard New Keynesian models left no room for a crisis like the one we’re having, because those models generally accepted the efficient-market view of the financial sector.

There were some exceptions. One line of work, pioneered by none other than Ben Bernanke working with Mark Gertler of New York University, emphasized the way the lack of sufficient collateral can hinder the ability of businesses to raise funds and pursue investment opportunities. A related line of work, largely established by my Princeton colleague Nobuhiro Kiyotaki and John Moore of the London School of Economics, argued that prices of assets such as real estate can suffer self-reinforcing plunges that in turn depress the economy as a whole. But until now the impact of dysfunctional finance hasn’t been at the core even of Keynesian economics. Clearly, that has to change.

VIII. RE-EMBRACING KEYNES

So here’s what I think economists have to do. First, they have to face up to the inconvenient reality that financial markets fall far short of perfection, that they are subject to extraordinary delusions and the madness of crowds. Second, they have to admit — and this will be very hard for the people who giggled and whispered over Keynes — that Keynesian economics remains the best framework we have for making sense of recessions and depressions. Third, they’ll have to do their best to incorporate the realities of finance into macroeconomics.

Many economists will find these changes deeply disturbing. It will be a long time, if ever, before the new, more realistic approaches to finance and macroeconomics offer the same kind of clarity, completeness and sheer beauty that characterizes the full neoclassical approach. To some economists that will be a reason to cling to neoclassicism, despite its utter failure to make sense of the greatest economic crisis in three generations. This seems, however, like a good time to recall the words of H. L. Mencken: “There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible and wrong.”

When it comes to the all-too-human problem of recessions and depressions, economists need to abandon the neat but wrong solution of assuming that everyone is rational and markets work perfectly. The vision that emerges as the profession rethinks its foundations may not be all that clear; it certainly won’t be neat; but we can hope that it will have the virtue of being at least partly right.

Paul Krugman is a Times Op-Ed columnist and winner of the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. His latest book is “The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008.”

Moisés Naím on FP: The Devil´s Excrement: Can oil-rich countries avoid the resource curse?

Oil is a curse. Natural gas, copper, and diamonds are also bad for a country's health. Hence, an insight that is as powerful as it is counterintuitive: Poor but resource-rich countries tend to be underdeveloped not despite their hydrocarbon and mineral riches but because of their resource wealth. One way or another, oil -- or gold or zinc -- makes you poor. This fact is hard to believe, and exceptions such as Norway and the United States are often used to argue that oil and prosperity can indeed go together.

The rarity of such exceptions, however, not only confirms the rule, but also serves to clarify what it takes to avoid the misery-inducing consequences of wealth based on natural resources: democracy, transparency, and effective public institutions that are responsive to citizens. These are important preconditions for the more technical aspects of the recipe, including the need to maintain macroeconomic stability, prudently manage public finances, invest part of the windfall abroad, set up "rainy-day funds," diversify the economy, and ensure the local currency does not reach too high a price.

It all sounds sensible, and a recent book edited by Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, and Macartan Humphreys, Escaping the Resource Curse, synthesizes the consensus about what countries beset by the combination of rich subsoil and poor institutions should do. As Brazil, Ghana, and others are soon likely to become major oil players for the first time, they will provide rare real-life test cases of these recommendations.

Unfortunately, for most underdeveloped countries, the suggested defenses are as utopian as the larger goal they are supposed to help achieve. Countries that already have all these institutional strengths need not worry. For the rest, like an autoimmune disease, the curse undermines the ability of a country to build defenses against it. Indeed, we've learned in recent years that concentrated power, corruption, and the ability of governments to ignore the needs of their populations make it hard to do what it takes to resist the resource curse.

Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, Venezuela's oil minister in the early 1960s and one of the founders of OPEC, was the first to call attention to the oil curse. Oil, he said, was not black gold; it was the devil's excrement. Since then, Pérez Alfonzo's insight has been rigorously tested -- and confirmed -- by a slew of economists and political scientists. They have documented, for example, that since 1975 the economies of resource-rich countries grew at a slower rate than countries that could not rely on the export of minerals and raw materials. And even when resource-fueled growth takes place, it rarely yields growth's usual full social benefits.

A common trait of resource-based economies is that they tend to have exchange rates that stimulate imports and inhibit the export of almost everything except their main commodity. It's not that their leaders fail to realize they need to diversify their economies. In fact, all oil countries have invested massively in the development of other sectors. Unfortunately, few of these investments succeed, largely because the exchange rate stunts the growth of agriculture, manufacturing, or tourism.

Then there is the intense volatility of the commodities that these countries export. In the last 24 months, for example, oil shot up from less than $80 per barrel to $147.27, then fell to $32.40, and again moved up, to $59.87 by mid-2009. These boom-and-bust cycles have devastating effects. The booms lead to overinvestment, reckless risk taking, and too much debt. The busts lead to banking crises and draconian budget cuts that hurt the poor who depend on government programs. To make matters worse, governments faced with a windfall of revenues feel pressure to launch plans that are larger and more complex than their bureaucracies can handle. Inevitably, the overambitious projects end up generating enormous waste and are often abandoned once revenues drop.

What's more, the oil industry is highly concentrated and capital intensive. This means that oil-fueled growth does not create jobs in volumes commensurate with oil's large share of the economy. In many of these countries, oil and natural gas account for more than 80 percent of government revenues, while these sectors typically employ less than 10 percent of the country's workforce. Inevitably, this leads to high income inequality.

Perhaps even more significantly, the oil curse also nurtures bad politics, and herein lies its autoimmune nature. Because governments of such countries do not need to tax the population to amass giant fiscal revenues, their leaders can afford to be unresponsive and unaccountable to taxpayers, who in turn have tenuous and often parasitic links with the state. With their ability to allocate immense financial resources pretty much at will, such governments inevitably grow corrupt.

This explains why the many sovereign wealth funds, oil-stabilization funds, and other solutions tried by resource-rich countries to avoid the effects of volatility, fiscal excess, indebtedness, export-inhibiting exchange rates, and other problems have rarely worked. Such funds either get raided before the rainy days or squandered in poor investments. Almost no resource-exporting country has been able to prevent its exchange rate from undermining the international competitiveness of its other sectors.

Once in power, oil-rich governments are deadly hard to dislodge. They stick around by spending their vast public resources to buy out or repress their political opponents. Statistically, it is far less probable that an authoritarian oil country will transition to democracy than that a resource-poor autocracy will. Oil-rich governments spend two to 10 times more on their militaries than countries without oil and are more prone to go to war. Most oil-exporting countries that do not have strong democratic institutions before they start exporting crude inevitably create an inhospitable environment for democracy.

One promising new idea is to force multinational corporations to be more transparent about their contracts, investments, tax payments, and revenues in poor countries. The premise is that more transparent information will curtail the ability of unaccountable politicians to use national resources as if they were their own. Not all multinationals are accountable and willing to play by these rules, however, and it takes more than the threat of posting a report on the Internet to stop a deeply entrenched kleptocracy from stealing.

So, is all hope lost for poor countries with rich natural resources? Not quite. Chile and Botswana stand out as success stories on continents where the resource curse has otherwise wreaked havoc. Their experiences confirm what we know is needed to inoculate a country from the oil curse. But why they were able to do so is still a mystery. Answers such as "good leadership," "strong governance," and "reliable institutions" only serve to mask our ignorance. Unlocking the secret of what enabled these two poor countries to successfully lift the resource curse can spare millions from the devil's excrement. But nobody has done it yet.

Foreign Policy Special report: Oil: The Long Good-Bye

Algunas reflexiones acerca del reporte especial de Foreign Policy: Oil: The Long Good-Buy. La conferencia de FP es un must para todo el que guarde algún interés por el desenvolvimiento del petróleo como fuerte de energía en los años por venir. Los artículos de los ponentes son largos, pero están todos allí, en el link de más arriba.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Last week, four of the world's most outspoken oil aficionados waded into the controversy of peak oil, publishing articles packed with myth and distortion. This "Gang of Four" all claimed the issue was silly, moot, or simply a myth. The four pieces were Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel Yergin's seven-page article in Foreign Policy, energy analyst Michael Lynch's three column op-ed in the New York Times, analyst Edward Morse's essay in Foreign Affairs, and scholar Amy Jaffe's paper published by the Baker Institute at Rice University.

Here is a quick synopsis of the views expressed by all four writers:

1. Oil will remain an extremely important part of the world's economy throughout the next century as its main base of users shifts from prosperous countries to the teeming mass of humanity in Asia that previously used only tiny amounts.

2. Oil markets are now far more transparent and far more liquid given the fact that existing oil contracts allow investors to trade three to five times more oil than the world uses every day. This transparency will flood capital into oil markets, keeping the price low which, in turn, will encourage even greater demand.

3. The world's endowment of oil has never been so large, despite 150 years of constant oil use coupled with the fact that the world now consumes more than 85 million barrels of oil daily. This "fact" is why all four authors took aim at the Peak Oil worry-warts who they feel are intent on trying to convince the world that it is running out of oil.

4. The emergence of spectacular new technology will enable the supply of oil to flow far easier than ever. And, this new technology boom is just getting started. Over time, it will improve by leaps and bounds.

Thus, these four global oil authorities mused that oil, celebrating its 150th birthday last week, has never been in better shape. How terrific the world's outlook would be if these four myths had even a touch of reality! Sadly, if one ignores opinion and simply adheres to a body of well-documented -- if ugly -- facts, it quickly becomes clear that these four assertions are utterly without substance.

First, alarming data from the International Energy Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the flow of global crude oil peaked in 2005 and is now sliding steadily. The world will never "run out of oil," but its flow is in decline. There may still be ample oil reserves left in the ground when oil flows fall to half of today's use. But these remaining reserves are all either very low-quality heavy oil, which is difficult to process, or tainted with toxic elements that make it hard to refine into usable petroleum products.

It would be comforting if some vast new oil frontier existed that would recreate the 20th century's oil miracle, but almost five decades have now elapsed since the last great super-giant oil fields were discovered and the last frontier basins were found.

Second, while global oil demand is growing far beyond what can easily be supplied, countries like China and India are still in relative economic infancy and their per-capita oil use is tiny when compared to the prosperous OECD countries. Demand is insatiable, but oil use can only match oil supply -- this is an irrefutable law of nature.

It is true that a steadily increasing number of financial players now bet on the price of oil. These speculators created the highest volatility that oil prices have ever experienced. The Gang of Four seems to think this is good for oil markets, but as a seasoned investment banker to the energy industry, I believe this volatility is a cancer that will ultimately destroy it. It shouldn't have been surprising that oil prices plummeted from $121 a barrel on Sept. 22 to a low of $31 a barrel on Dec. 22. It happened because hedge funds decided to short the oil contract. But the Gang saw this as normal price changes as folks realized the oil bubble had burst, although this doesn't sufficiently explain the size of the price swing that occurred.

When oil prices sunk to $31 a barrel, the oil industry was no longer financially viable, despite the fact that major oil-company CEOs considered this price "fair" only a year or two earlier.


All four oil experts made the same general argument, though stated in slightly different terms. None of them had any hard data on existing oil reserves to share with their readers because no hard data is available, only firm beliefs.

The final topic the Gang discussed was the rapid advances in oilfield technology. Sadly, this is the greatest myth of all. I spent four decades as an investment banker to the global oil-service industry, which collectively invented all of this technology. The concept that there are new innovations in this area is false.

In fact, the seeds of this so-called technological revolution -- the ability to exploit oil from deep water or drill horizontally -- were first developed 40 years ago. I personally raised a great deal of the venture capital that helped implement some of the most important technical advances in the industry. Our firm, through advising on mergers, consolidations, reorganizations, and bankruptcies, helped save the oil-service companies that created these great technological advances that help us find and commercially exploit oil and gas.

None of this technology is new -- in fact, it is now quite mature. Sadly, there are few new ideas in the oilfield pipeline to replace advances that were made decades ago.

In my view, while Yergin, Lynch, Morse, and Jaffe, are articulate in their theories, none seem to have any strong sense of the brutally grim reality of today's oil markets. The facts speak for themselves: Oil flows have peaked, technology is now mature, the people running the industry are far too old, and few top-notch graduates are interested in embarking on a career in such a volatile field.

Even oil's much-touted 150th anniversary is a myth. You can read about an oil flame burning next to Babylon in the Old Testament. This was oil flaring from Kirkuk, which later became the first super-giant oilfield found in the Middle East in the late 1920s.

Oil has been a miracle resource for ages but has never been well understood. For more than a century, myths about oil kept the real facts buried in a fog of bad information. Until the world's oil producers allow third-party audits of the flow rates of the world's largest oil fields, which they have so far been reluctant to do, it is impossible to know just how dire a situation we are in. I believe that such an audit would prove peak oil, but it is certainly irresponsible to make optimistic projections without hard data.

Once this transparency is attained, we can debate true facts and end flow of myths that led so many well-intentioned people into so many bad decisions about the future of oil.

viernes, 4 de septiembre de 2009

El oficio de vivir en Caracas

Un día cualquiera de esta semana, en el estacionamiento del Centro Plaza. No hablo del principal, sino de aquél al que se ingresa por el lateral, frente al Café Arábica. La claridad de la mañana se desvaneció apenas descendí la rampa, dando paso a una especie de submundo oscuro, húmedo y hediondo. Mientras maniobraba a tientas, hacia una luz que había en el fondo, pasé al lado de enormes pilas de basura, frutas podridas, desperdicios, cajas de cartón, y descubrí unas rampas por las que imagino ingresan los productos al supermercado, dos niveles más arriba. Unos minutos después, siguiendo las indicaciones de una flecha pintada sobre un cartón a brocha gorda, conseguí acceder a una rampa en espiral que indicaba la salida. No había sido una buena idea. Ascendí por el espiral lentamente, casi asomando la cabeza por la ventana para tratar de ganar algo de certeza, hasta que escuché el golpe. A punto de acceder al próximo nivel, al de la única salida, una sólida barra de hierro impedía el paso, asegurada al otro extremo por un enorme candado. Era contra eso que me había estrellado. Y aunque parezca difícil de creer, fue ahí donde comenzó la parte más extraña.

Un tipo con una franela raída que lo identificaba como empleado del estacionamiento se acercó a mí en medio de la oscuridad gritando: “¡Tú eres loco chico! ¡Mira como pusiste el carro!”. Traté de hablarle de los cartones pintados a brocha gorda roja, indicando la salida. “¿Y el cono?” ¿Cono? ¿Qué cono? “¿Allá abajo no había un cono?”. No. No había ningún cono. El acceso a la rampa estaba libre. Entonces el tipo se asoma al espiral y me dice: “Sí, tienes razón, el chamo de abajo quitó el cono, pero no me avisó”. Y vuelve a reclamarme: “¡Mira cómo pusiste el carro!”. Acto seguido surge una voz desde abajo: “¿Tu no habías abierto ahí arriba?”. “¡Claro que no! Tu no me avisaste que habías quitado el cono, y además, a esta hora la gente viene es entrando, no saliendo”. “Tú si eres bruto…

Mientras la discusión entre los dos niveles del espiral se iba poniendo más violenta y surrealista, el empleado del nivel de arriba abrió el candado y levantó la barra (sin dejar por eso de gritarle al de abajo), dándome acceso a la ruta de salida, la taquilla allá al final, su silueta resaltada al claro-oscuro por una entrada de luz natural. Una vez allí, habiendo recuperado en algo la compostura, traté de explicarle al empleado de la caja lo ocurrido. Tendría unos 65 años, alto, muy flaco, los ojos hundidos en las mejillas. No pude ir muy lejos. Con acento italiano y voz cascada, de esas que suelen tener los mafiosos de las películas, me aconsejó: “¡Más nunca se estacione de este lado! Esto es un nido de ratas. Todo está podrido, contaminado, no hay luces, aquí hay robos todos los días”. Ya no había forma de detenerlo, y en cualquier caso, aunque ya le había pagado, tendría que esperar que accionara la barra. “Mire, de pasar tanto tiempo aquí, estoy muy grave de los pulmones. Aunque esto me está matando, no tengo otra cosa que hacer. Hace poco traté de ir al médico pero el seguro que nos dan aquí no lo cubre, y los hospitales del seguro social están colapsados. Falté un día aquí y me dijeron que si volvía a faltar me botaban. Ya a esta edad, a dónde va a conseguir uno trabajo. Por eso sigo aquí. Esta gente son unos sinvergüenzas. Si quiere suba a hablar con ellos para que vea… ”. Se quedó mirándome, esperando respuesta. Yo ya no tenía nada que decirle. Ese silencio se prolongó un poco más, hasta que se hizo evidente que ya nadie iba a decir nada más. Entonces accionó la barra.

Esa noche fui a ver una adaptación de El Jardín de los Cerezos en lo que queda del CELARG, y cuando leí la frase proyectada en el telón al comienzo se me vino de inmediato a la mente el rostro del italiano del estacionamiento. “Todo lo que quise fue decir honestamente a la gente: Mírense a ustedes mismos y vean que malas y monótonas son sus vidas. Lo importante es que la gente se dé cuenta de ello, porque entonces crearán para ellos mismos una vida distinta y mejor... Y mientras esa vida diferente no exista, seguiré diciéndoles una y otra vez: por favor, comprendan que su vida es aburrida y monótona”. Ya casi no disfruté el resto de la función (nada del otro mundo de todas formas: el texto de Chejov apenas consigue sobrevivir a la “adaptación”).

Desde entonces no he podido dejar de pensar en aquél episodio. Me obsesionan ahora esas vidas monótonas, desperdiciadas, apuradas como si fuesen un gran trago amargo. Caí en cuenta de que el número de personas que podrían repetir de forma indefinida la entrada del diario de Cesare Pavese “Hoy, nada” (Abril, 25, 1936) puede llegar a ser colosal. Por un lado, esas, y por el otro, muchas otras que se terminan de repente, quedando incompletas, a medio camino, tantas vidas congeladas en la edad de la muerte. Cuando muere Lucio, el joven favorito e hijo adoptivo del Emperador Adriano, este último escribe: “Si César hubiera muerto a su edad, ¿qué quedaría de él? El recuerdo de un hombre disipado y endeudado, que a ratos se metía en política”.

Volví a pensar en Frida Kahlo: “"Recuerda que cada tic tac es un segundo de la vida que pasa y que no se repite, hay en ella tanta intensidad, tanto interés, que solo es el problema de saberla vivir. Que cada uno la resuelva como pueda". Durante una época de mi vida concebí la idea de contar con un mercado en donde se pudiera intercambiar el tiempo. A quienes no les alcanzara para todo lo que querían experimentar, hacer, vivir, podrían “adquirir” allí el tiempo sobrante a aquellos que no encuentran qué hacer con sus vidas, que ven pasar las horas lentamente, de forma monótona y aburrida. Era una idea positivista e individual, inspirada en las fuerzas que se percibe tienen las leyes de la economía cuando uno apenas las empieza a aprehender. Ahora pienso más bien que un elemento fundamental del oficio de vivir (Pavese dixit) pasa por ayudar a que otros tengan una mejor perspectiva de su tiempo, de sus posibilidades, por contribuir en algo a recuperar la esperanza. Eso, en una sociedad como la nuestra, donde la desesperanza es una política de Estado, no es una tarea fácil.

Por estos días Rafael Cadenas, una de esas buenas noticias que persisten en Venezuela, ha vuelto a ser reconocido a nivel internacional. Uno no tiene que ser conocedor de poesía para aprovechar y aprender de su trabajo. Sería confinarlo a un puñado de lectores. Cadenas es además un investigador del hecho de vivir. “La gente no quiere ser sacudida, dejada en el aire, puesta fuera de sus vías acogedoras, muelles, asegurantes, por esa loca ‘centella del alma’ (Eckehart), y lanzada a otra zona donde nada valen las convicciones que nos sirven en la vida diaria; prefieren enfrentarse a problemas cotidianos propios del engranaje donde están metidos, que mirarse, en la soledad de la noche, y preguntarse qué significa el hecho y el milagro de ser”. De eso se trata.

Devalúo, no devalúo, devalúo, no devalúo...

Pasan los días y el gobierno sigue sin anunciar el arreglo cambiario que reducirá la brecha entre el dólar oficial y el mercado paralelo. La calle ciega en la que se han metido no tiene salida fácil. Si bien en economía todo tiene su lado bueno y malo, la propia actitud del Gobierno le ha cerrado las puertas a las ventajas de los diferentes arreglos, dejándolos ante la incómoda elección de bailar con la menos fea.

El sistema de bandas, herramienta de propulsión de la corrupción (¿más que Cadivi?) no necesariamente tendría efectos sobre el dólar paralelo. La demanda de dólares allí no depende tanto de las bandas o tasas de cambio, sino más bien de la cantidad que se liquiden a las tasas oficiales. Volvemos a lo mismo. ¿Quieres liquidar cada vez más dólares (oficial y paralelo), alimentando importaciones y fuga de capitales? ¡No! Me quedaría muy pronto sin reservas. ¿Quieres permitir que suba la tasa de interés, para que quienes tengan bolívares no sufran pérdidas reales equivalentes a quince o veinte puntos porcentuales? ¡No! Yo soy el deudor más grande que existe en bolívares. ¿Quieres devaluar, para frenar la demanda de dólares? ¡No! Se dispararía la inflación. Ok. No hay ninguna otra opción (salvo cruzar los dedos para que suban los precios del petróleo, pero nadie está previendo que vuelvan a los niveles de 2008).

¿Por qué si hasta hace poco el petróleo estaba a 65 por barril e íbamos "bien", ahora a 55 todo el mundo está previendo un caos? Muy simple. El país se acostumbró a vivir con importaciones y de salidas de capital privado que no son consistentes con 55 dólares por barril. Ahora ya no tenemos la opción de volver atrás.

La pérdida inminente de valor del bolívar, sea por la vía oficial o por la depreciación en el paralelo (45% según el mismo período en 2008), podría traer algunos buenos resultados. Después de todo, la salida a la mayoría de las crisis de confianza que ocurrieron en los noventa -México, Tailandia y Rusia- pasaron por permitir la depreciación de la moneda local. En esa circunstancia, las exportaciones se hacen más competitivas y las importaciones más caras; se reorienta el gasto doméstico, y si el ambiente de negocios y los fundamentos están sólidos, invita a los inversionistas a adquirir activos productivos "baratos" en el país. Ninguna de estas posibilidades esta hoy aquí. El Gobierno corrió a las transnacionales y persigue al sector privado, quebró a los exportadores no tradicionales obligándoles a pagar costos cada vez más altos mientras liquidaban las divisas que obtenían a 2,15 en el BCV, y fomentó la exportación masiva de empleos. Ahora, si se devalúa la moneda, no hay producción local que sustituya a las importaciones. En lugar de señalizar la recuperación del equilibrio, los agentes económicos van a leer la depreciación como la primera de otras que podrían venir más adelante.

No hay salida fácil. Emitir deuda para satisfacer la demanda de dólares en el paralelo, sin preocuparse por corregir los fundamentos y las percepciones, no tiene sentido. Claro que el mercado es muy frágil, muy visceral, y una venta masiva de dólares se lo puede traer al suelo. Pero no por mucho tiempo.

Para El Universal, 04/09/2009

jueves, 3 de septiembre de 2009

¿Podría el dólar perder su estatus de reserva predilecta del mundo?

Esta discusión es muy interesante y seguramente dará lugar a unos cuantos debates más a nivel mundial y en las escuelas de economía. Estoy preparando algunos artículos sobre este tema, pero mientras tanto les envío "los datos crudos", la información en la medida y forma en que se va publicando, para que cada uno se vaya haciendo su propia idea de qué tan complejo puede llegar a ser.

¿Podría el dólar perder su estatus de reserva predilecta del mundo?
Noticias de Wall Street Journal


Dentro de unas décadas, tal vez la crisis de 2008 no sea recordada como los últimos días de Bear Stearns y Lehman Brothers, sino como el momento en que el dólar perdió su posición de privilegio indiscutido entre las divisas del mundo.

Suena como algo improbable ahora, pero para un activista de derechos humanos de Malasia, un legislador de Filipinas, el presidente del banco central de China (Zhou Xiaochuan) y el presidente de Francia (Nicolas Sarkozy) el rol del dólar como la divisa de reserva mundial presenta inestabilidades económicas inherentes, con consecuencias peligrosas.

Tanto en la fase que antecedió a la crisis como durante la crisis misma, una obsesión de mantener dólares en sus arcas contagió a las economías de todo el mundo. Actualmente, estos países temen a la inflación del dólar, que podría decapitar sus reservas bancarias.

No se trata sólo de argumentos técnicos. Estados Unidos perdió credibilidad durante la crisis financiera, lo que abrió un flanco para cuestionar su supremacía.

Sobran las razones para dudar sobre la teoría del derrocamiento del dólar. Pero uno también empieza a divisar, a lo lejos, la clase de cambio que se forja a lo largo de una generación. Algunos amenazaron con abandonar el patrón oro durante las crisis bursátiles de las décadas de 1870 y 1880. No volvió a ocurrir durante 50 años.

"Lo que era válido en 1945 ya no lo puede seguir siendo hoy", dijo Sarkozy recientemente. "El dólar ya no puede considerarse la única moneda del mundo".

En Malasia, el pacifista Chandra Muzaffar ha insistido que el dólar ha perdido su fuerza como la única moneda de reserva del mundo. "Ese es uno de los pilares de la hegemonía estadounidense", observa. "Hay señales de que estamos al borde de un cambio muy importante".

Un potente indicador del cambio apareció en marzo, cuando el presidente del banco central de China sugirió abandonar el dólar como una divisa de reserva. Las implicaciones prácticas son inmensas y llenas de consecuencias indeseadas, algo que los chinos conocen de sobra. La medida podría causar estragos en la economía de EE.UU., al elevar los costos del crédito y disminuir su capacidad de endeudamiento. Un distanciamiento repentino del dólar también podría devaluar el gigantesco portafolio chino en esa divisa.

La opción preferida por el presidente del banco central chino es pasar a depender más de los SDR, o derechos especiales de giro, una divisa creada por el Fondo Monetario Internacional. El SDR es una divisa sintética que consiste de una canasta que incluye al dólar, el euro, el yen y la libra esterlina, y contribuye a las reservas de los bancos centrales.

El SDR sigue muy ligado al dólar. Desde el fin del patrón oro, sin embargo, ha sido lo más cercano a una moneda internacional. La semana pasada, sin ir más lejos, el FMI distribuyó la mayor cantidad de SDR de la historia, unos US$ 250.000 millones que repartió entre los bancos centrales del mundo. Pero el SDR sigue siendo irrelevante.

"No será fácil", dice Walden Bello, un crítico de la globalización y miembro del Congreso de Filipinas, quien calcula que deshacerse del dólar podría llevar hasta 15 años. "Hay todo un nuevo equilibrio de poder. Una gran cantidad de países podría decidir que ya no podemos permitir que nuestras economías se sometan a las políticas económicas de EE.UU."

Michael Pettis, un profesor de la Escuela de Administración Guanghua de la Universidad de Pekín, cree que todo esto es una ilusión. Pettis apuesta a que el dólar se fortalecerá en los próximos años. "En mi opinión, en tres o cuatro años, este debate estará muerto", observa.

Por Denis K. Berman

Guest Columnist: Juan Carlos Monedero

A continuación un artículo de Juan Carlos Monedero publicado hoy en Publico.es, de Madrid. Lo reproduzco aquí, aunque es evidente que no estoy de acuerdo con muchos de sus postulados - por no decir la mayoría - por una razón sencilla. Creo que a esa fracción de la población venezolana que se ha opuesto de forma robusta a la re-elección de Chávez, entre los cuales me cuento y me identifico, le hace mucho daño su inconsistencia y flirteo con la re-elección de Uribe. Se convierte uno en blanco fácil, a fuerza de ser inconsistente. Se trata de que la reelección no funciona, ya lo sabemos nosotros, no de que los malos no se puedan reelegir y los buenos sí.

Además, la frase de: "Sí, es un hijo de puta, pero es nuestro hijo de puta, es memorable. Aquí está el artículo, o si lo prefieren leer directamente de Publico.es, el link: http://www.publico.es/internacional/248325/uribe/colombia/eje/mal/sitio

Juan Carlos Monedero: El eje del mal está en otra parte
Una cualidad extraña de la existencia de presidentes como Álvaro Uribe es que permite tomar sin margen de error el pulso moral a la política internacional.

Su notada actividad, incluyendo bombardeos a países vecinos, y la trinchera que cava con sus políticas contra la disidencia —asesinato de civiles por el Ejército y su presentación como guerrilleros, el hostigamiento mortal a comunidades indígenas, o el hecho de que el 70% de los sindicalistas asesinados en el mundo sean colombianos— podría ayudar a pensar que el eje del mal está en otro sitio diferente al que normalmente se refiere. Pero la política internacional es el reino hobbesiano por excelencia.

En el movido escenario latinoamericano, la presencia anacrónica de un gobierno de derecha dura y plenamente alineado con la política más rancia de EEUU recuerda con cierta exageración aquellos vientos antiguos de la política de la contención, según la cual no hay otro escenario de relaciones internacionales que el que marca el principio de conmigo o contra mí. Ya lo dijo Roosevelt de Somoza y nadie le llevó la contraria: "Es un hijo de perra pero es nuestro hijo de perra". Con una lógica de cierre geográfico, la Honduras de Micheletti, hace igualmente su parte.

Con el declive del PAN mexicano, Uribe se ha convertido en la pieza clave de la estrategia norteamericana, empeñada en remendar los rotos neocon de Bush en su intento mesiánico de evangelizar a los judíos ayudándoles previamente a machacar a los árabes. Así, los golpes se condenan pero se avalan; la IV Flota vuelve a estar operativa; se instalan bases militares; la política antidrogas se monopoliza entre el mayor productor y el mayor consumidor; y se estigmatiza cualquier política alternativa que se salga de ese esquema.

La política de patio trasero reclama gobernantes algo más que amables con los intereses norteamericanos. En un documento desclasificado de septiembre de 1991, se señala por parte de la DIA estadounidense que Uribe fue un importante actor del cártel de Medellín, amigo personal de Pablo Escobar y responsable en la alta política colombiana de los contactos con el narco y los paramilitares.

Igualmente se señala que el asesinato de su padre —a menudo presentado por el propio Uribe como el argumento para su compromiso contra la guerrilla— fue fruto de una venganza interna de las luchas entre clanes del narcotráfico.

Con semejante historial, es evidente que el control estadounidense sobre Uribe va más allá, incluso, del que pudo tener en su día con Noriega en Panamá. Como se vio en la cumbre de la UNASUR en Bariloche, le corresponde a Uribe, en estricta soledad, defender los intereses de EEUU en la región. Bases militares extranjeras incluidas. Esto, igualmente, da muchas claves de las razones de Uribe para lograr mantenerse en la Presidencia de Colombia. Un seguro jurídico hacia fuera y hacia dentro. Lo que obliga a tantas reelecciones como sean necesarias.

No deja de llamar la atención que la reelección de Chávez, motivada por la incapacidad de la revolución bolivariana de articular otros liderazgos capaces de profundizar los logros del proceso, haya sido estigmatizada a la altura del golpe constitucional de Hitler en 1933, mientras que la reelección de Uribe se presenta como un honrado ejercicio democrático. De hecho, y como ha denunciado la oposición, la discusión acerca de las bondades o maldades democráticas de la reelección ni se tocaron. La discusión era otra.

La Cámara de Representantes colombiana, donde casi la mitad de los congresistas uribistas están investigados, procesados o bajo sospecha de vinculaciones con el narcotráfico, el paramilitarismo y la corrupción, acaba de aprobar un proyecto de ley que permite a Uribe un tercer mandato. Como en tantas otras ocasiones, la democracia colombiana tiene una última salvaguarda en la Corte Constitucional.

Pero la política internacional no suele detenerse en la gramática jurídica. Y aún menos cuando el trío Chávez, Morales y Correa corre con la cuenta de todo lo realmente preocupante. No lo olvidemos: lo relevante es que Uribe es "uno de los nuestros".