TIME Economy

Alcohol Is Getting More Expensive Most Quickly in These Cities

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV Products Ahead Of Earnings Data
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images Jeff Allen, a driver for Brewers Distributing Co., delivers Anheuser-Busch beer in Pekin, Illinois, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014.

Bay Area booze is getting pricey

If the price of your pints seems steeper than it did a year ago, you might be on to something.

Depending on where you live, the price of alcoholic beverages was increasing faster than the rate of inflation heading into this fall season. This rate of increase is according to Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) data for all urban consumers released periodically by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This first chart shows how fast alcohol prices increased or decreased when it comes to alcoholic beverages alone:

Note that we are using only eight months of 2014 data in the above chart to compare against the 2013 yearly index average for each area.*

To better understand these numbers at scale, consider for a moment the all-items CPI-U basket, a weighted average of expenditures across all consumer goods and services. It’s the most common measure of inflation in the U.S. Throughout the year, the BLS publishes U.S. city average index values as well as more granular metropolitan index values. You’ll often hear about the inflation rate. Specifically, this number tells us how fast the index value for all the items in the CPI-U index is increasing for a given timeframe. As of August 2014, that number was averaging 1.65%, up from last year’s total average of 1.46%:

In nine of the 25 metro areas considered, the price of alcohol outpaced the ongoing 2014 rate of inflation. Naturally, these were areas in which the price of alcohol was increasing the fastest.

The fact that alcohol prices were increasing the fastest in the San Francisco Bay Area is not necessarily an indication that the Bay Area’s alcohol is the most expensive in the nation. Because a CPI measures how fast prices change in one area over time, it can’t be used to compare prices across cities. Increases or decreases, however, can be compared across geographic areas over time.

If you’re wondering about specific alcoholic beverages, it’s mostly beside the point. For those living in an area where the price of alcohol was increasing faster than inflation, drinks this weekend really might be a little more expensive.

*In FindTheBest’s CPI comparison topic, we use the yearly average of monthly index values. Using the yearly average smoothes out the potential volatility of year-over-year comparisons because it incorporates more data points. So measuring against the 2013 yearly index average for each area, the chart shows the percent change from that 2013 yearly index average to the end of August 2014. The August to-date average covers eight months of BLS data, though indexes for most metro areas are released on an odd/even basis or else a semiannual one.

This article was written for TIME by Ryan Chiles of FindTheBest. More from FindTheBest:

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TIME Economy

Where the Next Financial Crisis Will Come From

financial crisis
Mutlu Kurtbas—Getty Images

It won't be from the banking sector

The next financial crisis won’t come from the banking sector. That’s the message implicit in the latest report on the global financial sector from the Financial Stability Board, the group that monitors what’s happening with the world’s money flow. Instead, it’s very likely to come from the massive and growing “shadow banking” sector—an area mostly untouched by our government regulators.

New numbers show that the shadow banking industry—which includes everything from money market funds to real-estate trusts to hedge funds—grew by a whopping $5 trillion in 2013 to $75 trillion. If you look at the sector as a percentage of the global economy, that’s nearly what is was pre-crisis, back in 2007.

That means many of the risks that used to be held on bank balance sheets have moved to the non-regulated areas of finance. This says a number of important things. First and perhaps most importantly, all the backslapping in Washington about how much “safer” our banking system is now than it was six years ago is meaningless. While banks are still plenty risky, increasingly, new financial risk isn’t being held in banks — it’s being held in places that regulators can’t see it. (see my debate with Treasury over that fact here.) That Dodd-Frank financial regulation wasn’t able to do more about this is a real pity.

One of the ways that you can already see how the shadow-banking sector is influencing the financial markets is in margin debt. That’s a measure of the amount of debt that investors are using to buy stocks – and right now, New York Stock Exchange margin debt is at record highs; some think that’s because hedge funds have become such huge market players, in some cases as large or larger than banks in terms of their influence. Margin debt at record highs is scary for many reasons, one of which is that when there’s a lot of margin debt and the market turns, it speeds up a fall, leading to the kind of snowball effect that can lead to a market crash.

While that won’t necessarily happen any time soon, it’s worth remembering that debt itself is always the best predictor of financial crisis. As plenty of research shows, over the last two hundred years or so, every single financial crisis has been preceded by a big increase in debt levels. The growth in the shadow banking sector means we now know less, not more, than we did about who’s holding debt than before the financial crisis of 2008. That’s something we should all be worried about.

TIME Economy

The Strength of the U.S. Dollar Reflects Global Economic Reality

A man stands next to a money changer in Colombo
Dinuka Liyanawatte—Reuters A man stands next to a money changer in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Feb. 29, 2012

All hail the almighty greenback!

Ever since the Wall Street financial crisis of 2008, predictions of the dollar’s demise have come fast and furious. As the U.S. economy sank into recession, so too did confidence that the greenback could maintain its long-held position as the world’s No.1 currency. In Beijing, Moscow and elsewhere, policymakers railed against the dollar-dominated global financial system as detrimental to world economic stability and vowed to find a replacement. Central bankers in the emerging world complained that the primacy of the dollar allowed American economic policy to send shock waves through the global economy that roil their own markets and currencies.

But here we are, six years after the crisis, and the dollar is showing just how resilient it actually is. The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s value vs. a basket of other currencies, has reached a four-year high. Those policymakers who bitterly criticize the dollar show little actual interest in dumping it. The amount of U.S. Treasury securities held by China stands at a whopping $1.27 trillion.

The newfound strength of the dollar makes perfect sense. Sure, the world economic landscape is changing, with new rising powers like China and India, whose currencies may one day rival the U.S. dollar. But the buoyancy of the greenback is a reflection of today’s reality: the U.S. is the lone, significant bright spot among the world’s major economies. GDP in the third quarter grew an annualized 3.5% — far higher than other industrialized economies. That’s why the Federal Reserve has wrapped up its long-running and highly unorthodox economic-stimulus program known as quantitative easing, or QE, which, by spilling a torrent of dollars into global financial markets, was one factor behind the currency’s weakness in recent years.

Meanwhile, most of America’s key trading partners are heading in the opposite direction. The European Central Bank (ECB) is widely expected to start its own QE program to try to combat potential deflation and jolt sagging growth in the euro zone. That’s why the euro’s value against the dollar has been sinking to levels last seen two years ago. If the ECB does act, downward pressure on Europe’s common currency will likely intensify.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the central bank on Oct. 31 surprised markets by greatly broadening its own monetary-expansion program in an attempt to rescue Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stumbling initiatives to revive the long-slumbering Japanese economy, nicknamed Abenomics. The yen tumbled to a seven-year low against the dollar as a result. Research firm Capital Economics predicts that the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) action will help push the Japanese currency all the way down to 120 yen to the dollar by the end of 2015, from about 112 today.

The dollar has been gaining against some emerging-market currencies as well. Faced with slowing growth and the strain of economic sanctions, Russia’s ruble has been hitting repeated all-time lows against the dollar. Not even an interest-rate hike by Russia’s central bank on Friday has been able to stem the slide. On top of that, though that pressure has eased, the currencies of India, Indonesia and many other emerging economies still have not recovered their strength from when they tanked last year, after the Fed first signaled it was scaling back its stimulus activities.

How long can the good times roll for the U.S. dollar? That depends on many factors, from the future growth of U.S. GDP to the health of the global economy and upcoming Fed decisions on interest rates. Yet with central-bank policy in the most advanced economies sharply diverging — the Fed tightening, the ECB and BOJ loosening — the dollar could see continued gains. Some economists believe the conditions are in place for an extended period of dollar strength, perhaps lasting several years. “The building blocks are still in place for a sustained dollar rally,” analysts at financial giant Barclays concluded in a recent report.

The fact remains, too, that no other currency has emerged to truly rival the dollar as the world’s No.1 choice. The uncertain stability of the euro was exposed by its multiyear sovereign-debt crisis and the chaotic response to it from Europe’s leaders. And even though Beijing has high hopes to transform the Chinese currency, the yuan, into an international powerhouse, policymakers there have been extremely slow to introduce the financial reforms that would make that a real possibility.

Of course, there are still long-term factors at play that could knock away the pillars of dollar dominance. Russia and China, for instance, recently pledged to settle more trade between the two nations in rubles and yuan. But for now, the dollar reigns supreme, as well it should.

TIME Economy

The U.S. Economy Grew Faster Than Expected Over the Summer

Rosa Pantoja sews a bullet proof vest together in the Research and Development department of the Point Blank Body Armor factory in Pompano Beach, Fla., Sept. 19, 2014
J Pat Carter—AP Rosa Pantoja sews a bullet proof vest together in the Research and Development department of the Point Blank Body Armor factory in Pompano Beach, Fla., Sept. 19, 2014

Even as the global economy faces headwinds

The U.S. posted a better-than-expected jump in growth for the third quarter, the latest indication that the world’s largest economy is performing well even as the global economy faces headwinds.

Real gross domestic product, or the output of goods and services produced by U.S. labor and property, jumped at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.5% in the third quarter. The Commerce Department reported the increase was primarily due to consumer spending, exports, and higher government spending on the federal, state and local levels.

Economists polled by Bloomberg had projected a 3% increase in GDP, which comes after a 4.6% increase in the second quarter that was aided by a rebound in activity after a harsh winter.

“Finally the consensus is coming around that the U.S. has some above-trend growth,” said Bob Baur, chief global economist at Principal Global Investors. Baur estimates that the U.S. economy can reported growth of 3% or more over the next few quarters, driven by stronger consumer spending thanks to low interest rates, falling gas prices and an improving labor market.

The U.S. economy has performed well of late, consistently adding jobs and reporting sturdy sales of both homes and new automobiles. Meanwhile, many are optimistic that lower gas prices at the pump can lead to higher spending from consumers. Consumer confidence readings are at their highest level in seven years, something that will be music to the retail sector’s ears as the nation prepares for the holiday season.

The strong growth picture in the U.S. contrasts with some red flags that have been raised about the global economy. The International Monetary Fund earlier this month cut its outlook for global growth in 2015, citing a deterioration in expectations for the euro area, Brazil, Russia and Jaan. But the IMF raised its growth targets for the U.S. for this year and in 2015.

“Things are pretty good, we might not grow 4% in the fourth quarter and next year, but 3% [growth] is doable, despite global growth fears,” said John Canally, chief economist strategist for LPL Financial.

The Federal Reserve, which this month ended its most recent stimulus program, still struck a somewhat cautious tone about the U.S. economy. The Fed touted solid job gains and a lower unemployment rate, as well as rising household spending and more investment from businesses. But the Fed worries that the housing sector’s recovery remains slow, and inflation continues to run below the Federal Open Market Committee’s longer-term objective.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Economy

How We Underestimated the ‘Black Tuesday’ Stock Market Crash

Black Tuesday
TIME From the Nov. 4, 1929, issue of TIME

The "Black Tuesday" stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression happened on this day 85 years ago

It was pretty impossible not to notice that something bad had happened: in the days leading up to Oct. 29, 1929, the stock market was already reeling from a series of smaller sell-offs leading up to “Black Tuesday,” the day commonly used to mark the onset of the Great Depression.

But with only a few days of hindsight to put that event into perspective, it was pretty easy not to see how bad things were.

TIME was one of the outlets that made that very miscalculation. Reporting on the stock market in a Nov. 4, 1929, article, TIME recounted that the liquidation of stocks that day “might technically be termed orderly but was certainly extremely depressing.” (That take now seems ironically apt.) But the sell-off was balanced out by plenty of “don’t panic” speechifying — President Hoover said that Industry in the nation was “sound.” By the end of the day, TIME reported, “it seemed again that the worst was past.”

A move by the country’s biggest bankers to shore up the market by purchasing stocks had, it appeared, worked. Along with the lack of hindsight, that effort was partly to blame for the miscalculation. For example, a few days before Oct. 29, the broker Richard F. Whitney had personally stopped a panic by buying shares of U.S. Steel at 15 points above its market value; at a time when the whole banking industry seemed ready to take such extraordinary measures to save the economy, and when the market had done so well for so many years, optimism would have been easy. (Whitney later became president of the New York Stock Exchange. After that, in 1938, he went to jail for grand larceny.)

“Hysteria, it was hoped, had met its master in the Banking Power of the U.S.,” TIME wrote. That quote would later make it into TIME’s 75th-anniversary run-down of the most off-the-mark statements in the magazine’s history, alongside predictions that war would end in the 20th century and the sincere belief that the media would stay out of Bill Clinton’s personal life.

Even a week after the crash, when the economy was the Nov. 11, 1929, cover story, the gist of the story was that the valiant bankers who had banded together to keep things orderly had prevented the worst of possible outcomes. (This version of history, while incorrect in its optimism, may well be true nonetheless; it’s always possible that the Great Depression could have been even worse than it was. As long as The Hunger Games is still fiction, that will always be true.) As TIME reported:

Monday, Nov. 4, when the Exchange re-opened there were more sellers than buyers but none were frenetic. Toward noon prices climbed, then dropped again. In general stocks closed lower than Thursday. U. S. Steel closed at 180, Radio at 43¼, General Motors at 45¼. The market except at the very opening was dull as though it were tired. But it seemed to rest securely. Stock Exchange Governors ordered the Exchange closed after 1 o’clock Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; all day Saturday. Tuesday was a legal holiday (election day). Thus was further rest insured.

Friday there were no quotations nor Saturday for the Exchange was closed. Clerks who had passed many a sleepless night, slept, then returned to clean up the greatest amount of work which brokerage houses have ever had in so short a time. In the hurly-burly many an error had been made. The clerks had to discover them, rectify them. But in the Stock Exchange Friday and Saturday there was quiet.

Thus did Confidence win its subtle race against Panic.

But not everyone was having trouble seeing what was about to happen. The following letter ran in the Dec. 2, 1929, issue:

stock market letter
TIMEFrom the Dec. 2, 1929, issue of

Read Niall Ferguson’s comparison between 1929 and 2008 here in TIME’s archives: The End of Prosperity?

Read more: A Brief History of the Crash of 1929

Photos: The Crash of ’29

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 28

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Income inequality isn’t beyond our control. Smart policymaking could increase the efficiency of the U.S. economy AND narrow the income gap.

By Jason Furman in the Milken Institute Review

2. A “Paris Club” making and enforcing rules for managing Europe’s economic woes could offer stability for the long term.

By Robert Kahn at the Council on Foreign Relations

3. Fresh, community-based food offered at convenience stores and gas stations could change the way people in Detroit eat.

By Chris Hardman in Civil Eats

4. Reader as publisher? How crowdfunding journalism changes the relationship between news outlets and their audiences.

By Catalina Albeanu in Journalism.co.uk

5. Balancing privacy concerns is key to a future where learners are empowered to use data and truly take control of their networks and their futures.

By Catherine M. Casserly in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME China

Anyone Expecting a Rebound in Chinese Growth Won’t Like the New GDP Figures

Construction sites and vacant streets in Xiangluo Bay.
Zhang Peng—LightRocket/Getty Images Construction sites and vacant streets in Tianjin, China. The new central business district, under construction in Tianjin, was touted as another Manhattan, but is now a ghost city. The nation's slowing economy is putting the project into jeopardy

Say hello to China’s new normal

Those who remain hopeful about the future of the Chinese economy got some extra evidence to bolster their case today. On Tuesday, the government announced that GDP in the third quarter rose by a slightly better-than-expected 7.3%.

But don’t get too excited. That 7.3% is the slowest quarterly pace in five years — since the depths of the recession after the 2008 Wall Street financial crisis. And it was pushed higher likely by exports. In other words, external demand, not investment or consumption in the domestic economy.

There is really nothing surprising about these figures. This is China’s new normal. The double-digit pace the global business community has come to expect is very likely a thing of the past. More and more economists are predicting that China’s growth rates will continue to slow over time. The International Monetary Fund, for instance, sees growth dropping from 7.4% this year to 6.8% in 2016 and 6.3% in 2019.

There are too many factors at work slowing down the Chinese growth machine. First of all, no economy can grow 10% a year forever, not even China’s. The country is no longer the impoverished backwater it was in the early 1980s, when Beijing’s market reforms first sparked its growth miracle. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and the bigger China gets, the harder it becomes to post such large annual GDP increases. There are also structural forces at work. China’s population of more than 1.3 billion is aging rapidly, thanks in part to Beijing’s restrictive one-child policy, and that will act as a long-term drag on growth. The workforce is already shrinking.

The only question is: How slow will China go? The answer depends on how optimistic you are that China’s current leaders can fix the very serious problems plaguing the economy.

Aspects of the growth model that have driven China’s exceptional performance — state-directed investment, easy credit — have now come to spawn all sorts of new risks. Debt levels at Chinese companies have risen precipitously, money has been wasted on excess capacity and unnecessary construction, and bad loans at Chinese banks have been rising as a result. The economy is paying the price.

A big reason behind the country’s slowdown today is the deteriorating property market, brought low by irrational exuberance and excessive building. Official data shows that the amount of unsold real estate has doubled over the past two years, and that has caused prices to fall and investment in new developments to dry up. The central bank recently loosened restrictions on mortgage lending to boost sluggish demand, but most economists don’t expect such moves will stimulate a rebound anytime soon. There are even concerns that China is following a pattern similar to Japan’s when the latter Asian giant had its financial crisis in the early 1990s.

The long-term solution to these problems requires nothing less than overhauling the way in which the economy works. The country’s leaders realize this, too, and have pledged to undertake a thorough reshaping of the economy to give the private sector more influence. Policymakers intend to make the economy more market-oriented by liberalizing finance and capital flows and withdrawing the control of the state. Such steps would probably lead to enhanced productivity, better allocation of finance and stronger innovation — all things China needs badly as its costs rise with its wealth.

So far, though, there has been little progress. A free-trade zone in Shanghai, launched a year ago to experiment with freer capital flows in and out of the country, has never got off the ground. A series of investigations into the business practices of multinationals operating in China has raised questions about Beijing’s willingness to open up the economy further to foreign competition.

Of course, the liberalization Beijing has promised will take a long time to implement. But if the effort doesn’t progress, growth will likely suffer. The Conference Board in a recent report predicted that growth would slow to 4% a year after 2020, in part because its economists believe China’s leaders won’t go far enough in reforming the economy.

What this all means for businessmen and investors around the world is that China may not play the same role in upholding global growth in coming years as it has in the past. The new normal may not lift the gloomy spirits dominating global markets these days, either. But we’ll all have to get used to it.

TIME Research

A Lot of Men Got Vasectomies During the Recession

vasectomy
Getty Images

Up to an additional 150,000 to 180,000 per year between 2007 and 2009

The recession was accompanied by a sharp increase in the number of American men who underwent vasectomies, according to research presented Monday, though it’s unclear if economic woes actually led to more procedures.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College looked at survey data from the National Survey for Family Growth, which interviewed more than 10,000 men between 2006 and 2010, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. They wanted to get a sense of how the economic downturn from 2007 to 2009 affected men’s decisions about having kids.

Before the recession, 3.9% of men reported having a vasectomy, but 4.4% reported having one afterward, which the researchers calculated to mean an additional 150,000 to 180,000 vasectomies during each year of the recession.

The researchers also found after the recession that men were less likely to be employed full-time, and more likely to have lower incomes and be without health insurance. Nothing changed when it came to men’s desire to have children, but those who were interviewed after the recession were more likely to want fewer children.

It’s important to note that the study, which is being presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s 70th Annual Meeting, does not prove causation, meaning it’s unclear whether men were undergoing surgery for financial reasons. Though the researchers do conclude that their findings suggest Americans may be factoring economics into family planning—which is not necessarily a new trend.

TIME Economy

What You Need to Know About the Stock Market Sell-Off

For the last few years, markets were from Mars, and the real economy was from Venus. The two literally occupied different worlds, as stock prices kept rising, even as wages were stagnant and growth was slow. As of yesterday, that divide has been bridged. Stock prices finally plunged into a real correction of the kind we haven’t seen since the apex of the European debt crisis three years ago.

The question is, why now? The answer comes in two parts. First, with Europe in danger of tipping into recession, and China’s growth much lower than the official statistics would indicate (that’s one of the big reasons oil prices are down since China is now the world’s major consumer of energy), investors have realized that a wimpy recovery in the U.S. isn’t enough to buoy global growth. Sure, growth numbers were a bit better this year than last, but we’re still in a 3 percent economy that doesn’t look or feel much different than the 2 percent economy (see my Curious Capitalist column on that topic). If you think of the global economy as three legs on a stool, the legs being the U.S., Europe, and the emerging markets led by China, what’s becoming very clear to markets is that a 3 percent economy in the U.S. isn’t enough to sustain global momentum. Indeed, the U.S. may grow faster than the world as a whole this year, which is an odd thing for a developed market. It speaks to how weak the global economy as a whole still is.

Second, markets have realized that this recovery has been a genetically engineered recovery. It’s been engineered by the monetary scientists at the Fed, who’ve pumped $4 trillion into the economy since 2009 in an attempt to strengthen an economy that is fundamentally not as strong as it looks. Despite the Fed’s best efforts (and I agree that they needed to do something, especially in the beginning), the real economy simply hasn’t caught up to the markets. Unemployment has ticked down, but wages still haven’t ticked up. It’s no accident that weak retail sales in the U.S. were one of the economic indicators that triggered the sell-off. As I’ve said many times before, you can’t have a sustainable recovery, one markets can really believe in, until you have the majority of the population with more money in their pockets.

The reality is that this hasn’t happened in the last few years, and for many people, decades (the average male worker today makes less in real terms than he did in the early 1970s).

So does this mean we are in for a long, slow slide? Not exactly. I’d bet more on increased volatility (if you are a subscriber, you can read this piece I wrote on the coming Age of Volatility, back in 2011). Markets will go up and down, but as long as the U.S. is the prettiest house on the ugly block that is the global economy, money may stay parked in the largest American multinationals longer than you’d think. Whether or not our economy deserves the vote of confidence is another question.

TIME Markets

Stock Markets Are Waking Up to Economic Reality

An investor holds a child in front of an electronic screen showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang
Sheng Li—Reuters An investor holds a child in front of an electronic screen showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shenyang, Liaoning province, Oct. 16, 2014.

Misguided policy is undermining growth and creating new risks

Stock markets are supposed to be indicators of where economies are headed. The recent sell-off in global equities, however, shows investors are just catching up with the headlines. Wall Street had powered through the gloomy news emanating from much of the global economy for most of the year, with indices scoring one record after the next. But now investors seem to have finally woken up to the world’s woes, causing the bulls to stampede. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged by as much as 2.8%, and even though it later recovered, it has still fallen by 5% in five days. That followed a terrible day on European bourses, with the German and French markets suffering large losses. The trouble continued Thursday in Asia, with losses in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Financial markets are reacting to what should have been obvious to investors for some time — growth is stumbling in just about every corner of the planet. And we can blame some pretty gutless policymaking for it. From Beijing to Brussels to Brasilia, governments are failing to implement the reforms we need to finally lift the global economy out of the protracted slump tipped off by the 2008 financial crisis.

The situation is most infuriating in Europe. The International Monetary Fund recently cut its forecast for euro zone GDP growth to a mere 0.8% this year. Germany, the largest and supposedly strongest economy in the zone, is projected to expand only 1.4%, while Italy, the zone’s third-largest economy, will likely contract again in 2014. Unemployment remains stubbornly high at 11.5%. Meanwhile, the leaders of Europe seem unconcerned and have done little to encourage growth or job creation. At a European level, the process of forging greater integration and bringing down remaining barriers to cross-border business has stalled, while the record of individual governments in liberalizing markets and fixing broken labor systems is at best mixed. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, has fallen behind the curve in preventing prices from falling to dangerously low levels, raising fears of deflation, which would suppress consumption and investment even further. No wonder more analysts are worried Europe is facing “Japanification” — a potentially destructive, long-term malaise similar to what has been experienced in Japan.

Speaking of Japan, the program of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — dubbed “Abenomics” — is being exposed as a failure. Massive monetary stimulus from the Bank of Japan has not jumpstarted growth, while Abe, with government finances increasingly under strain, has had to hike taxes, dampening consumption and denting growth even further. The promised structural reforms that could raise the economy’s potential, from loosening up labor markets to opening protected sectors, have barely gotten off the ground. The IMF sees Japan’s GDP expanding a meager 0.9% in 2014.

The story in emerging markets isn’t much better. Once high fliers have crashed down to earth. Brazil’s economy will likely grow a pathetic 0.3% this year, while Russia, plagued by sanctions, will be lucky to avoid a recession. Even China is struggling. Though growth remains above 7% — at least officially — economists are just now starting to realize such rates are probably the country’s “new normal.” Facing a property slump and excessive debt, the economy will continue to slow down in coming years. Beijing’s policymakers have promised a lot of the liberalizing reforms that could fix China’s growth model, but they have implemented almost none of that program. A free-trade zone that was to be a critical experiment in more open capital flows, launched with great fanfare in Shanghai a year ago, has languished as policymakers drag their feet on implementation.

There are occasional bright spots, though. It looks like India is rebounding, while growth in some other developing nations, such as the Philippines, remains healthy. But that won’t be enough to stir prospects globally. And while the U.S. is better off than most other advanced economies, the inability of Washington to confront problems like income inequality or sagging infrastructure is holding the economy back.

What we are witnessing around the world is a slowdown created to a large degree by bad policymaking and political inaction. In fact, you could make the argument that what steps have been taken have only made matters worse. The long-running easy money policies of the Federal Reserve probably helped to propel the prices of stocks and other assets upward, detaching them from the underlying fundamentals of the global economy and making them vulnerable to sudden shocks and shifts in sentiment.

Perhaps what we’re seeing in global stock markets is a temporary correction or short-term adjustment. Or perhaps markets are telling us things will be much worse than we expect in coming quarters. Either way, it seems like investors are finally swallowing a dose of economic reality.

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