Climbing back into role as growth leader

The US has plenty of company in its economic misery.

In the third quarter of this year, output in the industrial world came to a halt, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the Paris-based club of 30 mostly rich nations.

Japan saw its gross domestic product decline 0.5 percent. Unemployment has risen to a postwar high of 5.4 percent.

Canada's GDP slipped 0.2 percent.

Economic growth in the 12-nation euro area was flat, with Germany, the biggest economy in the monetary union, down slightly. "The European Central Bank did not pursue policies that were appropriate," charges Norbert Walter, chief economist of the Deutsche Bank Group. He blames the ECB's slowness in lowering interest rates on the fear of inflation among business executives and trade-union leaders.

Dr. Walter does not expect the euro-zone economies to recover until the second half of 2002.

Baker suspects issue of the new euro currency for use in 2002 will boost its value in relation to the US dollar. "Lots of people are anxious to hold the euro," he says.

The Washington economist has long held that the US cannot forever maintain $400 billion annual deficits in its international balance of payments. Distribution of the new euros, he suggests, might kick off a big sell-off of the dollar, depressing its value on foreign-exchange markets. A weaker dollar would help US recovery, but add to inflation.

Britain is doing better than continental Europe - GDP was up 0.5 percent in the third quarter.

The world economy also has moved into what International Monetary Fund officials regard as a recession. They say global growth will be 2.4 percent this year and next, the worst performance since 1993.

Central banks in nations around the globe have been lowering interest rates to encourage a revival in their economies.

In contrast to most of the world, ex-communist countries are doing relatively well. Russia's GDP rose at a 5.4 percent rate in the first half of this year, enjoying a rise in oil prices. Russia has racked up three years of robust economic growth. It could even afford to repay last month a $1 billion five-year international bond issue - something of a milestone for the nation. At last, Russian workers' wages are up, and unemployment is down by half a million.

Similarly, China is doing well.

"Nothing short of astonishing," reckons Mr. Roach. He maintains that "China did more heavy lifting on [economic] reforms over the past five years than did the rest of the world, combined."

China has shifted its economy to a more competitive, less communist, structure in recent years.

China's exports have been hit by the slump in the US. Export growth has gone from 28 percent in 2000 to barely 1 percent in October. That has shrunk growth in GDP to about a 7 percent annual rate in the third quarter, compared to 8 percent in 2000.

Economists figure China needs rapid GDP growth to provide jobs for the workers displaced from restructured state enterprises and from agriculture.

With the US accounting for almost 25 percent of global output, most nations are hoping its economy will build up steam soon - again becoming the engine of growth for the world.

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