The Future of Economic Convergence
Novelists have a better track record than economists at foretelling the future. Consider then Gary Shteyngart's timely comic novel "Super Sad True Love Story" (Random House, 2010), which provides a rather graphic vision of what lies in store for the world economy. The novel takes place in the near future and is set against the backdrop of a United States that lies in economic and political ruin. The country's bankrupt economy is ruled with a firm hand by the IMF from its new Parthenon-shaped headquarters in Singapore. China and sovereign wealth funds have parceled America's most desirable real estate among themselves. Poor people are designated as LNWI ("low net worth individuals") and are being pushed into ghettoes. Even skilled Americans are desperate to acquire residency status in foreign lands. This is sheer fantasy of course, but one that seems to resonate well with the collective mood. A future in which the U.S and other advanced economies are forced to play second fiddle to the dynamic emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere is rapidly becoming cliche. This vision is based in part on the very rapid pace of economic growth that emerging and developing economies experienced in the run-up to the global financial crisis of 2008-2009. Latin America benefited from a pace of economic development that it had not experienced since the 1970s, and Africa began to close the gap with the advanced countries for the first time since countries in the continent received their independence. Even though most of these countries were hit badly by the crisis, their recovery has also been swift. Optimism on developing countries is matched by pessimism on the rich country front. The United States and Europe have emerged from the crisis with debilitating challenges. They need to address a crushing debt burden and its unpleasant implications for fiscal and monetary policy. They also need to replace growth models which were based in many instances on finance, real estate, and unsustainable levels of borrowing. Japan has long ceased to exhibit any growth dynamism. And the eurozone's future remains highly uncertain--with the economic and political ramifications of its unraveling looking nothing less than scary. In such an environment, rapid growth in the developing world is the only thing that could propel the world economy forward and generate increasing demand for rich-country goods and services--the only silver lining in an otherwise dreary future. The question I address in this paper is whether this gap in performance between the developed and developing worlds can continue, and in particular, whether developing nations can sustain the rapid growth they have experienced of late. I will not have anything to say on the prospects for the advanced economies themselves, assuming, along with conventional wisdom, that their growth will remain sluggish at best. My focus is squarely on the developing and emerging countries and on the likelihood of continued convergence.
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