As global leaders continue to deal with their economies’ immediate problems, long-term issues such as global warming, inequality and poverty are being compromised – with potentially dangerous ramifications. Although today’s crises undoubtedly warrant immediate action, we should be asking whether we are responding in ways that will exacerbate our long-term problems.
NEW YORK – In the shadow of the euro crisis and America’s fiscal cliff, it is easy to ignore the global economy’s long-term problems. But, while we focus on immediate concerns, they continue to fester, and we overlook them at our peril.
The most serious is global warming. While the global economy’s weak performance has led to a corresponding slowdown in the increase in carbon emissions, it amounts to only a short respite.
And we are far behind the curve: Because we have been so slow to respond to climate change, achieving the targeted limit of a two-degree (centigrade) rise in global temperature, will require sharp reductions in emissions in the future.
Some suggest that, given the economic slowdown, we should put global warming on the backburner. On the contrary, retrofitting the global economy for climate change would help to restore aggregate demand and growth.
At the same time, the pace of technological progress and globalization necessitates rapid structural changes in both developed and developing countries alike. Such changes can be traumatic, and markets often do not handle them well.
Just as the Great Depression arose in part from the difficulties in moving from a rural, agrarian economy to an urban, manufacturing one, so today’s problems arise partly from the need to move from manufacturing to services. New firms must be created, and modern financial markets are better at speculation and exploitation than they are at providing funds for new enterprises, especially small and medium-size companies.
Moreover, making the transition requires investments in human capital that individuals often cannot afford. Among the services that people want are health and education, two sectors in which government naturally plays an important role (owing to inherent market imperfections in these sectors and concerns about equity). More