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The Three Stooges of World Economy

Are policymakers in the United States, Europe and Japan clowning around with the global economy?

April 26, 2002

Are policymakers in the United States, Europe and Japan clowning around with the global economy?

Remember Moe, Larry and Curly? As the Three Stooges, they specialized in broad slapstick based on inane misunderstandings.

As their equals in global economic terms, the Japanese are an obvious choice. But Japan’s particular attempt at comedy is getting rather old now.

In fact, it is the same joke repeated over and over — namely that the Japanese financial system can avoid drastic reform.

Of course, the original Three Stooges would trot the same jokes again … and again … and again. But they were professional comedians.

Japan’s continuing resistance to fundamental economic change would be funny — if it wasn’t dragging down Asia’s economy in the process.

Europe is the closest equivalent to a straight man in this group. Its attempts at humor are centered on European monetary policy.

Banking authorities in the EU step all over each other’s toes — miscommunicating their views and confusing markets. In one sense, it is a sort of mini-stooge fest all its own.

And, of course, Europe’s inability to reform its agricultural policy brings tears — but not from laughter — to the eyes of farmers in developing countries.

Not surprisingly, the leading stooge is the United States.

Like Moe, the leader of the original Three Stooges, the United States delights in poking the other global economic stooges in the eye — for no good reason.

Recently, the United States has used trade issues like the steel tariff as an economic slapstick routine.

Resisting environmental change (think Kyoto) has been yet another poke in the eye of U.S. economic partners.

And, best of all, these U.S. eye-pokes are accompanied by aggravated lectures about how Japan and Europe ought to shape up — with specific advice on how to do so.

It is always nice to inject humor into the field of economics — a discipline that has long been characterized as “the dismal science.” But, on the other hand, we wish that the Three Stooges of the world economy would leave the joking to professional comedians — and start to take their responsibilities more seriously.