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George Shambaugh on the current economic crisis and the Great Depression

Professor George Shambaugh

Professor George Shambaugh

My friend and Georgetown colleague, George Shambaugh, is featured on the Georgetown homepage discussing he views on the current economic crisis. Gabrielle Matthews writes:

The past financial crises in Latin America and Asia are better comparisons to the United States’ current economic woes than the Great Depression, according to George Shambaugh, associate professor of international relations at the School of Foreign Service.

“A lot of people have said our current financial crisis was new and different.  As a consequence, they looked back to the Great Depression rather than to more recent crises to figure out what was going on,” says Shambaugh, also chair of the government department. “Unfortunately, the Great Depression is not the most useful example to go back to.”

Shambaugh, who is writing a book on the subject, says the roots of today’s U.S. and European economic problems are in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when global political and economic environments fundamentally altered the management of international financial markets.

“Understanding that, looking at the experiences of the Latin American and Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and early 2000s really give us a much better way of interpreting and explaining what’s going on today in the United States and Europe,” he says.

Shambaugh is studying how the relative power of political and economic leaders in a particular country affects its ability to negotiate economic policy reforms and manage domestic and global markets.

“Just as you often benefit from an economic check on political exuberance, you benefit from a political check on economic exuberance,” he explains. “There are two dynamics — markets and government — and they need to work together.”

He says the challenge faced by President-elect Kim Dae-jung of South Korea in 1997 echoes that of President-elect Obama in 2008. Both faced huge financial crises and political opposition from right-wing parties, but they eventually reformed their economics because they were charismatic politicians who joined forces with strong financial leaders.

“The book looks at the relationship between the strength of political leaders and economic leaders and what happens when they work together to mutually support economic policy, keep political or economic exuberance at bay or when one takes a dominant role,” Shambaugh notes. “In the late Clinton Bush administrations before 9/11, lack of political oversight led to economic exuberance. Post-9/11, the relative lack of power among economic leaders enabled political exuberance with little economic constraint.”

It sounds like an outstanding book!

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.