On the Continued Economic Decline of the West

Jon Moynihan, Executive Chairman of PA Consulting Group, made a presentation at the London School of Economics in July 2012 titled The Continued Economic Decline of the West. He dissects the problems we face, taking a deep dive into the stagnating Western world, and proffers some possible solutions.

It is worth noting that Moynihan comes to this from a non-Keynsian perspective. Indeed, I found his characterization of neo-Keynesians as the true inheritors of Fabian Socialism amusing. And he castigates the Western government’s general disregard for running surpluses and their affection for deficits.

This changing economic landscape that we in the West will inhabit must be contemplated by our leaders and citizens. It is sobering to consider the data that he presents.  Yet within the challenges there must be opportunities.

Moynihan outlines a sombre future. A future where young people cannot reasonably expect to get jobs or be well paid; one where xenophobia and discontent may well become the norm.

As Niall Ferguson has argued: “If the young knew what was good for them they’d join the Tea Party”. Thus we can expect to see shifts in political allegiances arising from the social disruptions we can expect from the economic disruption evolving in the West.

As Moynihan sees it some of the issues that loom large for Western nations include:

  • Inability of the West to protect existing IP due to counterfeiting or piracy by the Developing world
  • Inability of the West to innovate and create new IP on large scale due to inadequate capital available
  • China is rapidly increasing their number of patents registered – supported by their 10,000 science PhD graduates per annum
  • Number of adults in West who leave school unable to read – 1 in 5  Western school leavers are functionally illiterate
  • The West has a low propensity to invest new capital into new ventures and infrastructure
  • Western nations have a growing hostility towards high income earners and lack of encouragement for entrepreneurs and VCs
  • Western wages will fall – low paid workers to suffer most and this means that demand will decrease – it will lead to a global equalization of wages
  • Entitled groups – banks, CEOs, public sector, benefit claimants – mean that funds are not available for investment (NB: there is an interesting example of what happens when a government downsizes the public sector happening right now in Queensland)

What is to be done?

According to Moynihan the solution lies in what many would view as fairly radical steps:

  • Reorient government spending away from entitlements and towards new infrastructure (like an NBN)  and education
  • Reform the banks so that they do not make excess profits
  • Move taxation away  from corporate and personal income taxes and towards consumption and property taxes
  • Develop new technologies, support new forms of manufacturing, and support ecosystems that provide job multipliers – he cites the Rational Optimist for ideas
  • Accept immediate cuts in living standards by increasing retirement age and reducing entitlements

It’s worth taking the time to watch the entire presentation, even if you don’t agree with his ideas there are lots of interesting data.

If you don’t have time to watch the entire video then it’s worth viewing the slide deck from Moynihan’s talk on Business Insider. It is food for thought. I hope that our politicians are taking time to get their heads around these issues that we face.

However, I suspect that these issues that we face will not be addressed at a national, regional, or global level. The political cost of doing something will paralyze many governments from taking action until too late.

It is time to think about localized solutions and building resilient communities. It is time to reboot capitalism and find new and sustainable economic approaches.