The holiday season is a time for expansive thoughts, and not just about waistlines. It allows people time to step back from the daily grind and think about how they could do things differently. Has lack of imagination blinded them to simple solutions? With a little effort, could they make 2013 a lot better?
For the rich world’s governments, the answer is yes. We offer three ways to improve confidence and increase growth in what otherwise looks like being a pretty bleak year. Regular readers will not be astonished to hear that all three involve trade liberalisation. This is, indeed, a theme we have returned to with some frequency since this newspaper was set up in 1843 to oppose Britain’s protectionist Corn Laws. But the gains to be had from sluggish rich countries opening their borders to each other’s goods and services look enticing. The world is less integrated than most people realise. And trade also offers a chance for liberal democracies to re-establish their credentials as the world’s guides towards prosperity.
According to the IMF, in 2013 America’s economy may grow by around 2%, Japan’s and Britain’s by 1% or so, and the euro zone’s will be lucky to grow at all. Policymakers in each of these economies could do plenty of things to improve this dour prognosis, but most involve unappealing choices. A further monetary boost may help add zip to the recovery, but risks producing asset bubbles. More fiscal expansion could help growth but could weigh governments down with extra debt.