Blog - Views on the Economy and the World

Views on the Economy and the World

A blog by Jeffrey Frankel

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338 posts

Project Syndicate asked, “Is a Global Recession Inevitable?”   Steven Roach says, “yes”;  Anne Krueger says, “Depends…Certainly not inevitable”; & Jim O’Neill says, “Quite possible.”

My answer to the question, Is a global recession inevitable:

No. A global recession is entirely “evitable.”

True, the odds of a downturn are high in Europe, hard-hit by the need to manage winter without Russian natural gas; China, where Covid shutdowns already turned growth negative last quarter; and Emerging Market and Developing Economies, many of which have debt troubles.

Among the most salient of economic developments in the last two years have been big movements in the prices of oil, minerals, and agricultural commodities.  It was hard to miss the big rise in commodity prices.  The Brent oil price increased from a low $20 a barrel in April 2020, during the first Covid-19 wave, to a peak of $122, in March 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine.  But it was not just oil. The price of copper doubled over this period.  Wheat more than doubled. And so on. Global indices of commodity prices almost tripled from April 2020 to March 2022.

On July 28, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its advance estimate of economic growth, as measured by GDP, in the just-completed second quarter of the year.  The announcement is attracting more than the usual eager anticipation.  The reason is that many observers predict that the Q2 GDP number will be negative and that this will officially confirm widespread beliefs that the economy went into recession in the first half of 2022, figuring that growth in national output is already determined to have been negative in the 1st quarter of the year. After all, isn’t a recession defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth?

Some new problems have afflicted the economy in the last year.  Two examples come from the US:  blockages in supply chain logistics and a critical shortage in infant milk formula. One problem applies to the EU even more than to the US: energy scarcity due to sanctions against Russian fossil fuel exports.  And one applies almost everywhere: inflation.

The US dollar is up 12% against the euro over the last year.  Having moved from 1.21 $/€ in May 2021 to 1.07 $/€ today, the exchange rate seems to be approaching one-to-one parity for the first time.  Europeans are not happy about it. If you think that prices for oil and other commodities are high now in terms of dollars, you should see what they look like in terms of euros.  Get ready for “reverse currency wars.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has amplified the importance of national security objectives when Western nations formulate energy policy.  At the same time, they should not take their eye off the ball of reducing environmental damage and, in particular, slowing down greenhouse gas emissions.  Both goals, geopolitical and environmental, are urgent.  The national security and environmental objective should be evaluated together, rather than via separate “stove pipes.”

The surprising strength of economic sanctions deployed multilaterally against Russia this month has been exceeded only by the surprising strength of the heroic Ukrainian resistance to the invasion of their territory.  True, it is hard to imagine sanctions bringing the Russian economy to its knees faster than Russian troops are able to complete the hundred-mile advance to Kyiv from the border.  But sanctions have gone macroeconomic.  Ultimately, the Russian economy will suffer severely and lastingly.

The US Supreme Court on January 13 blocked President Joe Biden’s attempt to mandate that businesses must require their employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or else wear masks and be tested regularly.  This “emergency standard” was to have been applied by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, carrying out its responsibility under long-standing legislation to protect workers facing serious danger in the workplace.

As Russian troops mass along the border with Ukraine, the White House has been calibrating its response. President Joe Biden has warned that in the event of an invasion, the US and allies would make Russian President Vladimir Putin pay a heavy price. Likely measures would particularly include economic sanctions such as a cut-off from the SWIFT payments system and turning off the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline.  Good. It is possible that such threats will deter Putin.