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Global Depression


Worldwide economic indicators, including low GDP growth, high unemployment rates, bankruptcies, and high consumer and government debt, suggest a global financial collapse is always possible.

Inequality is a serious economic problem. The top 1% of earners own 51% of the world’s wealth. The top 10% collectively own 89% of the world’s wealth. The bottom 50% of the world’s adult population owns just 1% of the world’s wealth.

As shown below, many nations are struggling with declining economic systems while others are doing well. The forces causing financial instability are growing, however, and could produce a major collapse. International actions in recent years narrowly averted a Great Depression. Could another collapse be waiting to strike?


Forces Causing Downturns 

Due to the growth of international trade and investment, national economies today are highly interdependent and complex systems. A downturn in one country can trigger regional or global decline. Witness 2008, when the collapse of the American real estate bubble triggered a global recession; and 1997, when the Asian financial crisis slowed economies as distant as the US, Latin America, and the OPEC nations.

The United States, at least temporarily, has lost the economic strength needed to restart the world’s growth in times of trouble. In 2018 ,the USA just added another trillion to its debt, and the total debt will soon reach the critical 100 percent level. Many states and cities also are financially strapped. Nonetheless, corporate profits have been growing rapidly, and the stock market is thriving, with DJIA passed 20,000 points for the first time. [1]

China, which is credited with powering recoveries from the last two recessions, may be heading in the same direction. Economic growth has slipped from its normal 10 percent annually to the 6/7 percent range. Of 7 million Chinese college graduates in 2013, 3 million are unemployed. The Chinese central bank chief warned of ‘Sudden, Contagious and Hazardous’ financial risks that the Chinese financial system is facing due to high leverages.  [2]

The EU has an unemployment rate of roughly 10 percent. While this has improved steadily, it is still higher than earlier lows of under 8% and much higher for the young. A Euro collapse could spark global depression and push unemployment to 20 percent. [3]

Greece continues to struggle. Having shrunk 30% since the start of the debt crisis, the unemployment rate is still over 23%, with youth unemployment rate at over 45%.

Brazil  has had several years of low or no growth. After 7.5 percent GDP growth in 2010, it has hovered in the range of 2 to 3 percent.

Russian GDP contracted but is expected to return to modest growth. Its economy remains vulnerable since oil accounts for roughly 25 percent of GDP. [4]


Stabilizing Forces 

The International Monetary Fund responded quickly to the 2008 global economic crisis, lending a record US$250 billion after assessing each country’s needs to ensure economic recovery. However, one only needs to take a look at what IMF did in Greece to see their policies do not “ensure” economic recovery.

Germany has strong industries and services that provide employment, so it was not hit as hard as other countries. Economic growth is modest by European standards. 

Japan has recorded more growth years than declining GDP over the past 15 years, although the growth rates are modest (generally under 1%).

Mexico’s economy grows about 4 percent annually, thanks to growth in energy and telecommunications.

South Korea has declining exports but increased domestic consumption and a government stimulus have kept GDP growth in the 2- to 3-percent range.

Seven out of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Behind the surge are an emphasis on local markets and vaccines that protect the health of young people.

Most Likely Forecast

As noted below, 6 major nations were growing as of 2017, while 7 are suffering economically and could slide into depression.

The TechCast experts collectively estimate a probability of roughly 40 percent that a global depression plunges major economies into a state of crisis in the next decade or so. They also think the consequences on society would be dire, and they have high confidence in their estimates.


Strategic Implications

While it is obvious downturns are followed by growth, it’s far from obvious this cycle raises the standards of living more than steady growth. For instance, Australia has enjoyed decades of uninterrupted growth.

Depressions are among the most destructive forces of life, increasing suffering, homelessness, crime, suicide, and war. They also cause higher unemployment, bankruptcies, and foreclosures.  The economic cost is usually severe and takes years to overcome. Loans dry up and inhibit future business growth, fewer Imports and exports.  International trade diminishes.

[1] Washington Post, Jan 25, 2017

[2] Bloomberg, Nov 4, 2017

[3] Eurostat, Mar 2, 2017

[4] World Bank, Jan 2017

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