By Nouriel Roubini
NEW YORK ( Project Syndicate ) — There are three negative supply shocks that could trigger a global recession by 2020. All of them reflect political factors affecting international relations, two involve China, and the United States is at the center of each.
Moreover, none of them is amenable to the traditional tools of countercyclical macroeconomic policy.
The first potential shock stems from the Sino-American trade and currency war , which escalated earlier this month when President Donald Trump’s administration threatened additional tariffs on Chinese exports, and formally labeled China a currency manipulator.
The second concerns the slow-brewing cold war between the U.S. and China over technology. In a rivalry that has all the hallmarks of a “Thucydides Trap,” China and America are vying for dominance over the industries of the future: artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 5G, and so forth.
In the medium term, though, the optimal response would not be to accommodate the negative supply shocks, but rather to adjust to them without further easing.
The U.S. has placed the Chinese telecom giant Huawei on an “entity list” reserved for foreign companies deemed to pose a national-security threat. And although Huawei has received temporary exemptions allowing it to continue using U.S. components, the Trump administration this week announced that it was adding an additional 46 Huawei affiliates to the list.
The third major risk concerns oil supplies. Although oil prices /zigman2/quotes/211629951/delayed CL.1 -3.67% have fallen in recent weeks, and a recession triggered by a trade, currency, and tech war would depress energy demand and drive prices lower, America’s confrontation with Iran could have the opposite effect.
Should that conflict escalate into a military conflict, global oil prices could spike and bring on a recession, as happened during previous Middle East conflagrations in 1973, 1979, and 1990.
All three of these potential shocks would have a stagflationary effect, increasing the price of imported consumer goods, intermediate inputs, technological components, and energy, while reducing output by disrupting global supply chains.
Worse, the Sino-American conflict is already fueling a broader process of deglobalization, because countries and firms can no longer count on the long-term stability of these integrated value chains. As trade in goods, services, capital, labor, information, data, and technology becomes increasingly balkanized, global production costs will rise across all industries.
Moreover, the trade and currency war and the competition over technology will amplify one another.
Consider the case of Huawei, which is currently a global leader in 5G equipment. This technology will soon be the standard form of connectivity for most critical civilian and military infrastructure, not to mention basic consumer goods that are connected through the emerging Internet of Things.