[lbo-talk] missing hegemon at the CFR

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Wed May 23 09:48:47 PDT 2007

I was at one of those Council on Foreign Relations public events this morning - Larry Summers and Paul Volcker on a successor to the Bretton Woods system, moderated by James Grant. Coupla things:

1) Summers pronounced himself a "chastened prophet" for saying that the U.S. current account deficit was unsustainable since it has gone on for so long. Volcker agreed. Summers added that it's interesting that there were more people worried about the U.S. stock market when the Nasdaq was at 2500 than there were at 3500, and quoted his "good friend" Rudi Dornbusch as saying things always go on longer than you expect, and then when they go bad, it all happens much more quickly than you'd expect.

2) From the questions, the CFR audience was seriously concerned about the c/a deficit and the weakening of U.S. power in the world. They're all very polite, but it sounded like they don't think Bush has been good for the imperium. One questioner noted that today's world looks like one without a hegemon, and when that's happened in the past, bad things ensued (e.g., Depression and world war). He noted that since both Summers and Volcker occupied seats of power when the U.S. was an unchallenged hegemon, how different do they think things would be now were there some sort of financial crisis, esp one featuring the U.S. Both Summers and Volcker looked stunned into silence for a while, and then Summers said that that was a "powerful" observation couched as a question. And Volcker expressed concern that managing a crisis would be much more difficult now with the U.S. "politically weakened" and the target of so much "antagonism" around the world. He worried that Europe and the Asia might go off on their own. Someone else asked who out there might "lend a hand" if the U.S. hit a wall. Another long pause, and then Volcker doubted anyone would raise his hand as volunteer, which prompted nervous chuckles.


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