The Crisis Next Time: What We Should Have Learned From 2008

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At the turn of this century, most economists in the developed world believed that major economic disasters were a thing of the past, or at least relegated to volatile emerging markets. Financial systems in rich countries, the thinking went, were too sophisticated to simply collapse. Markets were capable of regulating themselves. Policymakers had tamed the business cycle. Recessions would remain short, shallow, and rare.

Seven years later, house prices across the United States fell sharply, undercutting the value of complicated financial instruments that used real estate as collateral—and setting off a chain of consequences that brought on the most catastrophic global economic collapse since the Great Depression. Over the course of 2008, banks, mortgage lenders, and insurers failed. Lending dried up. The contagion spread farther and faster than almost anyone expected. By 2009, economies making up three-quarters of global GDP were shrinking. A decade on, most of these economies have recovered, but the process has been slow and painful, and much of the damage has proved lasting.

“Why did nobody notice it?” Queen Elizabeth II asked of the crisis in November 2008, posing a question that economists were just starting to grapple with. Ten years later, the world has learned a lot, but that remains a good question. The crash was a reminder of how much more damage financial crises do than ordinary recessions and how much longer it takes to recover from them. But the world has also learned that how quickly and decisively governments react can make a crucial difference. After 2008, as they scrambled to stop the collapse and limit the damage, politicians and policymakers slowly relearned this and other lessons of past crises that they never should have forgotten. That historical myopia meant they hesitated to accept the scale of the problem and use the tools they had to fight it. That remains the central warning of 2008: countries should never grow complacent about the risk of financial disaster. The next crisis will come, and the more the world forgets the lessons of the last one, the greater the damage will be.

CRASH LANDING

Before 2007, most economists had been lulled into a false sense of security by the unusual economic calm of the preceding two and half decades. The prior U.S. recession, in 2001, was shallow and brief. Between 1990 and 2007, rates of economic growth in the United States varied far less than they had over the previous 30 years. The largest annual decline in GDP was 0.07 percent (in 1991), and the largest increase was 4.9 percent (in 1999). Inflation was low and steady.

The period came to be known as “the Great Moderation.” The economists Olivier Blanchard and John Simon reflected the views of their profession when they wrote in 2001, “The decrease in output volatility appears sufficiently steady and broad based that a major reversal appears unlikely. This implies a much smaller likelihood of recessions.” That view ignored much of what was happening outside the West, and even those whose perspectives stretched back more than just two decades tended to look back only to the end of World War II. In that narrow slice of history, the U.S. economy had always grown unless the Federal Reserve raised interest rates too high. When it did, the Fed reversed course and the economy recovered quickly. That assurance was further bolstered by another belief about downturns. Economists compared them to plucking a guitar string: the more forcefully it is pulled, the faster it snaps back. More painful recessions, the wisdom went, produce more vigorous recoveries.

Systemic financial crises almost invariably cause severe economic downturns.

Yet had economists looked farther afield, they would have realized that financial crises were by no means a thing of the past—and that they have always led to particularly large and persistent losses in economic output. As research we have published since the crisis with the economist Kenneth Rogoff has demonstrated, systemic financial crises almost invariably cause severe economic downturns, and the string does not snap back. This fact screams out from every aspect of the historical record. Data on the 14 worst financial crises between the end of World War II and 2007 show that, on average, these led to economic downturns that cost the affected countries seven percent of GDP, a much larger fall than what occurred in most recessions not preceded by a financial crisis.

In the worst case, when a financial crisis in 2001 forced Argentina to default on over $100 billion in foreign debt, the country’s GDP per capita fell by more than 21 percent below its prior peak. On average across these episodes, per capita GDP took four years to regain its pre-recession level. That is far longer than after normal recessions, when growth does snap back. In the worst case, after Indonesia was hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis, it took the country seven years to recover.

Also noteworthy was that all 14 of the largest postwar crises took place after the mid-1970s. The three decades beginning in 1946 were unusually free of financial catastrophe. (That likely resulted from the tight controls on international flows of capital that formed part of the Bretton Woods system, a reminder that although open global capital markets bring major benefits, they also produce volatility.) But the crises after the mid-1970s show how much economic output can be lost when capital flows come to a sudden stop—and how hard it can be to recover from the downturn.

Given this background, the economic pain that followed the financial crisis of 2007–8 should have come as no surprise. As it turned out, the effects were even worse than history would have predicted. We compiled data from the 11 economies that suffered the deepest crises in 2007–8, as assessed by the loss of wealth in the stock market and the housing market, the market capitalization of the financial institutions that failed, and the amount spent by the government on bailing everyone out. On average, these countries saw a nine percent drop in real GDP per capita, compared with the average seven percent fall among the countries that experienced the previous 14 worst financial crises since World War II.

Not only did output fall further, it recovered more slowly. On average, it took over twice as long to regain the ground lost in the recession—nine years rather than four. Some countries have still not fully recovered. The economies of Greece and Italy experienced falls in per capita GDP—26 percent and 12 percent, respectively—of a scale seldom seen in the modern world outside of wartime. Today, both countries have yet to climb back to the levels of per capita GDP they reached in 2007. They are not likely to anytime soon. According to the latest forecast from the International Monetary Fund, per capita real GDP in Greece and Italy will come in below 2007 levels through 2023, as far out as the IMF forecast runs.

A Lehman Brothers employee leaves the building in Canary Wharf, London, September 2008.

A Lehman Brothers employee leaves the building in Canary Wharf, London, September 2008.

THE LONG ROAD BACK

Financial crises do so much economic damage for a simple reason: they destroy a lot of wealth very fast. Typically, crises start when the value of one kind of asset begins to fall and pulls others down with it. The original asset can be almost anything, as long as it plays a large role in the wider economy: tulips in seventeenth-century Holland, stocks in New York in 1929, land in Tokyo in 1989, houses in the United States in 2007.

From their peak at the end of 2006 to their nadir at the beginning of 2009, U.S. house prices fell so far that the average American homeowner lost the equivalent of more than a year’s worth of disposable income. The destruction of wealth was about 50 percent larger than that resulting from the previous major financial shock, the technology stock crash in 2000. The bursting of the tech bubble led to a brief and shallow downturn. The collapse of house prices triggered something far more serious. The crucial difference lay in the form of wealth destroyed.

The 2000 crash had little effect on the wider economy since most people and institutions owned few technology stocks. In 2007, by contrast, houses formed a major part of most Americans’ wealth, and banks around the world had used them as collateral in vast numbers of complicated and opaque financial instruments. Once house prices fell and Americans began defaulting on their mortgages, the elaborate system of financial obligations built on top of U.S. household debt came crashing down. The bursting of the tech bubble was just a stock market crash; the bursting of the housing bubble became a systemic financial crisis.

Recovering from a severe financial crisis typically involves three stages. First, the affected country must acknowledge the extent of the wealth that has been destroyed. This can take some time if the assets that have collapsed in value are held by institutions that have opaque balance sheets and are protected by risk-averse government agencies. The housing market, for example, often takes some time to account for price falls, as owners hang on in the hope of better days ahead, and even if the price continues to fall, they have legal protections in bankruptcy law that delay forced sales. The many complicated instruments that use those underlying mortgages as collateral can also be slow to adjust, as they are difficult to price and banks often cannot sell them once trading dries up in a crisis. All too often, the day of reckoning is put off as banks fail to acknowledge how much the value of their assets has fallen.

Financial supervisors sometimes look the other way because once they have admitted the depth of the problem, their governments will be forced to take the second step: allocating the losses among their citizens. Even doing nothing marks an implicit decision, as the people and financial institutions that own the assets then have to bear all the pain. Officials usually worry that major banks are too important to the economy to go under, so the government steps in with bailouts.

Understanding these first two steps goes a long way toward explaining why countries have followed such different paths since the financial crisis. In the United States, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, passed by Congress in 2008, and the bank stress tests that followed, which measure whether banks have enough capital to survive another catastrophe, created a formal mechanism to recognize and allocate losses. Europe, by contrast, lagged behind the United States because some governments were unwilling to admit how much wealth had been destroyed. And even once European governments did face the facts, some were reluctant to allocate the losses within their own economies because of the international nature of the institutions affected and, in a few cases, the sheer magnitude of the sums involved.

The five European countries hit hardest by the crisis were Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, and Spain. The governments of Iceland, Ireland, and Spain ultimately forced their banks to acknowledge their losses and relieved them of some of the junk weighing down their balance sheets. But Greece and Italy lumbered along with impaired banking systems, which acted as a drag on economic activity. Partly out of concern about the consequences for their own balance sheets if they bailed out the banks—they had the continent’s highest levels of debt even before the crisis—the Greek and Italian governments looked the other way for as long as possible.

THE CENTRALITY OF CENTRAL BANKS

The final step in dealing with a financial crisis is for governments and central banks to do what they can to blunt the effects. How far the economy falls and how fast it recovers depend on what tools officials have available—and on how willing they are to use them.

For most advanced economies, the events of 2008–9 will go down in history as “the Great Recession,” not “the Second Great Depression.” That should stand as a credit to the governments that prevented a new depression by actively managing their economies. This was a far cry from the 1920s and early 1930s, when politicians believed that it was best to let the economy correct on its own. From 2008 to 2011, across the 11 countries hit hardest by the crisis, governments spent an average of 25 percent of GDP on stimulating their economies.

But they all could have done better. The United States spent heavily but too slowly and inefficiently. In Europe, too much of the stimulus went toward picking up the pieces of failed financial institutions, which provided neither the immediate fillip that would have come from policies such as raising compensation for the unemployed nor the permanent benefits that would have come from building infrastructure. Moreover, the governments that had the most room to borrow—most notably Germany, the eurozone’s largest economy—did the least to boost spending.

Europe also wasted valuable time when it came to monetary policy. In 2012, Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, famously promised to “do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.” He kept his word, by lowering interest rates below zero and buying vast quantities of financial assets. But his U.S. counterpart, Ben Bernanke, the chair of the Federal Reserve, was more than three years ahead of him. In December 2008, the Fed cut the nominal interest rate to zero and then over the next four years broke new ground in several other ways. It launched new lending programs that accepted collateral the Fed had previously never touched from institutions it had not previously lent to. And it bought huge tranches of financial assets, inflating its balance sheet to an unprecedented size, around one-quarter of U.S. nominal GDP.

Yet as effective as central banks ultimately were at fighting the crisis, they may come to regret their unconventional policies, some of which had the effect of reducing democratic accountability. In particular, the Fed supported financial institutions well beyond the commercial banks it usually deals with. It lent to investment banks and an insurance company and directly supported money market mutual funds (which buy and sell mostly short-term government and commercial debt) by starting special lending programs that accepted a wider range of collateral than was normal. By lending to some institutions and industries but not others, the Fed affected their stock prices and the relative interest rates they had to pay. That effectively favored specific companies and industries and, by extension, the people who owned the companies and lent to them. Such policies are normally carried out by Congress. But now that the Fed has opened the door to them, future politicians might see an opportunity to achieve some public policy aim by supporting a particular company or industry without having to pass a law; if politicians believe that they only need to make a phone call to the Fed, the Fed could come under far more political pressure than in the past.

Early on in the crisis, the Fed also extended huge loans to foreign commercial banks and central banks that needed dollar funding, obviating the need for the U.S. Treasury to supply them with dollars. That saved the Treasury from having to report the actions to Congress, which would have looked askance at U.S. government support for foreign banks. Another legacy of the central banks’ assertiveness is that the majority of government debt that is sold on the open market in the United States, Japan, and the eurozone is now owned by central banks. That threatens to erode central bank independence by tempting politicians to fix their budgetary math by forcing central banks to write off the government debt they own. Concentrating government debt in official coffers has also made the private market for it less liquid, which might make it harder for governments in advanced economies to borrow more in the future.

The regulated banking sector is healthier today than it was before the crisis, both because a generation of bankers were chastened by the crash and because governments have erected a firmer scaffold of regulation around it. In the United States, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 gave regulators the power to force the largest banks to significantly increase the amounts of capital they hold, making them more able to absorb losses in the future. Banks were also induced to reduce their reliance on short-term funding, giving them more breathing room should their access to short-term markets be shut off, as it was in 2008.

To make sure banks are following the rules, regulators now supervise them more closely. Large banks undergo regular stress tests, with real money riding on the results. If a bank fails the test, regulators may block it from paying dividends to shareholders, buying back its own shares, or expanding its balance sheet. Large banks also have to show that their affairs are in order by submitting “living wills” to the authorities that detail how their assets and liabilities will be allocated should they go bust. This has made the traditionally opaque business of banking a little more transparent.

Yet the fatal flaw in the Dodd-Frank Act is its focus on the mainstream banking system. The act makes it more expensive for banks to operate by forcing them to hold more capital, pay more for longer-term funding, and comply with increased reporting requirements. But American attitudes toward risk taking remain the same: aspiring homeowners still want to borrow, and investors still want to lend to them. By making it more expensive to take out a mortgage with a mainstream bank, regulators have shifted borrowing and lending from the monitored sector to the unmonitored one, with homebuyers increasingly turning to, say, Quicken Loans rather than Wells Fargo. A majority of U.S. mortgages are now created by such nonbanking institutions, also known as “shadow banks.” The result is that the financial vulnerability remains but is harder to spot.

After a crisis, the regulatory pendulum typically swings too far, moving from overly lax to overly restrictive. Dodd-Frank was no exception; it swept more institutions into a burdensome compliance scheme than was necessary to limit systemic risk. The Trump administration has undone some of this overreach by directing agencies to regulate less aggressively and passing legislation to amend Dodd-Frank. So far, the changes have mostly trimmed back excesses. But at some point, if efforts to cut the fat continue, they will reach the meat of the supervisory process.

DOOMED TO REPEAT

Ten years after the financial crisis, what have we learned? The most disquieting lesson is how complacent politicians, policymakers, and bankers had grown before the crisis and how much they had forgotten about the past. It shouldn’t have taken them as long as it did to relearn what they should have already known.

Several other specific lessons stand out. First, authorities must follow the three-step process of dealing with a crisis—admit the losses, decide who should bear them, and fight the ensuing downturn—as quickly as possible. Delay allows problems to fester on bank balance sheets, increasing the ultimate cost of bailing out the financial system. This was the mistake Europe made and the United States avoided.

The second lesson of the crash is that a system of fixed exchange rates can turn into an economic straitjacket. When aggregate demand falls sharply, central banks usually respond by cutting interest rates and using every other tool at their disposal to get the economy going again. The effect of such policies is to lower the value of the country’s currency, stoke domestic inflation, and reduce the interest rates at which domestic banks lend to customers and to one another. This boosts exports, stimulates demand at home, and encourages lending.

It shouldn’t have taken policymakers as long as it did to relearn what they should have already known.

As members of the eurozone, some of the hardest-hit countries—Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Spain—had neither independent central banks nor their own currencies, so this course of action was unavailable to them. Monetary policy for the entire region was instead set in Frankfurt by the European Central Bank, which took too long to react aggressively to the crisis, since it was initially focused on the performance of the countries at the eurozone’s core—France and Germany—not that of those at the periphery. The only way to make Greek, Irish, Italian, and Spanish goods and services more attractive to foreign customers was to cut wages and accept lower profit margins, a slow and painful process compared with devaluing one’s currency.

The crisis also showed that it matters how much room governments have to borrow, even when interest rates are extremely low. In times of trouble, policymakers are less likely to be sure that investors will buy new government debt. In the eurozone, they are limited in another way: governments cannot borrow as much as they want, since they worry their fellow member states will trigger the EU’s enforcement mechanisms meant to prevent excessive borrowing. During the 2007–8 crisis, government debt exploded. From 2007 to 2011, the Greek government borrowed an amount equivalent to about 70 percent of the country’s GDP, and Italy borrowed about 20 percent of its GDP, bringing government debt in both countries to over 100 percent of GDP. Iceland, Ireland, and Spain borrowed equally spectacular sums. Yet most of this new debt went toward propping up these countries’ financial systems, leaving the governments with little left over to boost growth.

The final lesson of the crisis is that it is possible for inflation to be too low. Before 2007, inflation in most advanced economies (with the notable exception of Japan) was stable and close to the goal set by central banks, typically two percent. This was a measure of the progress made by the world’s central bankers over the previous three decades. Markets had come to expect that central banks would keep prices steady. After the crash, that progress became a poisoned chalice. Central banks cut nominal interest rates close to zero, but this pulled the real interest rate (that is, the nominal interest rate less the expected rate of inflation) to no lower than negative two percent, which was not low enough to stimulate economies suffering from massive losses in wealth and confidence.

The tragedy is that none of these lessons is new. The importance of moving quickly to stimulate the economy after a financial crisis was shown by Japan’s “lost decade” in the 1990s, when a period of low GDP growth followed an economic bubble. The value of a system of flexible exchange rates was demonstrated in 1953, when the economist Milton Friedman showed how devaluing one’s currency would avoid the need to cut wages and prices. For decades, economists in the United States and Europe have urged governments to control spending during times of growth. The EU even imposes rules limiting the size of the deficits member states can run, although countries routinely break them. There are many good economic reasons to limit the buildup of debt, including avoiding crowding out private spending, but the most practical warning may have come from the American diplomat John Foster Dulles in the first issue of this magazine: large debt loads take away oxygen from the discussion of other political issues. Finally, the fact that a higher background inflation rate can be a good thing, because it allows for a lower real interest rate and thus faster recoveries, has been known since 1947, when the economist William Vickrey argued that higher inflation made economies more resilient.

That the world had to relearn so many important lessons during the last crisis suggests that it will forget them again. Economic vulnerabilities vary from place to place. Some countries default on their debt, in some cases frequently; others never do. Some have repeated bouts of virulent inflation; others avoid the problem entirely. Some have exchange-rate crises; others do not. What determines which countries are prone to these problems is a combination of institutional design, the strength of the rule of law, and national attitudes, such as an aversion to debt. Despite this diversity, financial crises turn up in every country, whatever its history of sovereign defaults, periods of high inflation, or exchange-rate volatility. This suggests that there are important human elements behind financial meltdowns: greed, fear, and the tendency to forget history. The most recent crisis, dramatic as it was, will not be the last.

Anúncios

Pepe Escobar explica o 11 de setembro

Pepe Escobar: “De volta ao (Grande) Jogo: A vingança das potências terrestres da Eurásia”

30/8/2018, Pepe Escobar, Consortium News vol. 24, n. 242
Preparem-se para uma grande sacudida no tabuleiro de xadrez geopolítico: doravante, cada borboleta que bater as asas e deflagrar um tornado conecta-se diretamente à batalha entre a integração da Eurásia e as sanções usadas como política exterior do ocidente.

É a mudança de paradigma trazida pelas Novas Rotas da Seda da China versus É-do-nosso-jeito-ou-é-pé-na-bunda à moda dos EUA. Vivíamos sob a ilusão de que a história acabara. Como se chegou a isso?

Pule a bordo, para uma essencial viagem no tempo. Durante séculos a Antiga Rota da Seda, pela qual viajavam nômades, estabeleceu o padrão de concorrência para a conectividade no comércio por terra, uma rede de estradas ligando a Eurásia ao – dominante – mercado chinês.

No início do século 15, baseado no sistema tributário, a China estabelecera uma Rota Marítima da Seda pelo Oceano Índico diretamente às costas da África, puxada pelo lendário almirante Zheng He. Mas não tardou, e a Pequim imperial concluiu que a China era autossuficiente o bastante – e que devia enfatizar as operações por terra.

Privados de conexão comercial por corredor terrestre entre Europa e China, os europeus partiram pelas suas próprias rotas marítimas da seda. Todos conhecemos o resultado espetacular da empreitada: por meio milênio o ocidente dominou o mundo.

Até que recentemente os últimos capítulos desse Admirável Mundo Novo foram conceptualizados pelo trio Mahan, Mackinder e Spykman trio.

A Terra Central ou o Coração Continental do Mundo
The Heartland of the World

A Teoria da Terra Central, de 1904, de Halford Mackinder – produto do Novo Grande Jogo de Rússia-Grã Bretanha imperiais – codificou o medo supremo, primeiro anglo, depois anglo-norte-americano, de que emergisse uma nova potência terrestre capaz de reconectar toda a Eurásia, em detrimento das potências marítimas.

A Teoria do Rimland [“das bordas marítimas”] de Nicholas Spykman, de 1942, pregava que as potências com mobilidade marítima, como Grã-Bretanha e EUA, deviam buscar o equilíbrio estratégico pelas águas. A chave para isso seria controlar as bordas marítimas da Eurásia – a saber Europa Ocidental, Oriente Médio e Ásia Oriental — contra qualquer possível unificador da Eurásia. Sem precisar manter um grande exército sobre terra eurasiana, você exerce o controle dominando as rotas comerciais em toda a periferia eurasiana.

Já antes de Mackinder e Spykman, o almirante da Marinha dos EUA Alfred Thayer Mahan aparecera, nos anos 1890s com seu Influence of Sea Power Upon History [Influência do Poder Marítimo na História] – segundo o qual a “ilha” EUA devia se autoestabelecer como gigante marítimo, à imagem do império britânico, para manter o equilíbrio de poder na Europa e na Ásia.

Tratava-se exclusivamente de conter/controlar as bordas marítimas da Eurásia.

De fato, vivemos num mix de Terra Central e Bordas Marítimas (Rimland). Em 1952, o então secretário de Estado John Foster Dulles adotou o conceito de “corrente/cadeia de ilhas” (então expandido para três correntes/cadeias) ao longo de Japão, Austrália e Filipinas, para cercar e conter ambas, China e URSS no Pacífico. (Observe-se a tentativa que fez o governo Trump, de reviver a ideia via o Quad – EUA, Japão, Austrália e Índia).

George Kennan, o arquiteto da contenção da URSS, vivia embriagado de Spykman, enquanto, em trilha paralela, os redatores de discursos do Presidente Ronald Reagan viviam, ainda em 1988, embriagados de Mackinder. Referindo-se a concorrentes dos EUA como decididos a dominar a massa terrestre eurasiana, Reagan entregou o jogo: “Combatemos duas guerras mundiais para impedir que isso acontecesse”, disse ele.

A integração e a conectividade da Eurásia avança sob muitas formas. As Novas Rotas da Seda, também conhecidas como Iniciativa Cinturão e Estrada, ICE (ing. Belt and Road Initiative, BRI); a União Econômica Eurasiana, UEE (ing. Eurasia Economic Union, EAEU); o Banco Asiático de Investimento e Infraestrutura, BAII (ing. Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, AIIB); o Corredor Norte-Sul de Transporte Internacional, CNSTI (ing. International North-South Transportation Corridor, INSTC), e muitos outros mecanismos estão agora nos conduzindo para outro jogo, completamente novo.

Lindo ver que o próprio conceito de “conectividade” eurasiana saiu, na verdade, de um relatório do Banco Mundial, de 2007, sobre competitividade nas cadeias globais de suprimento.

Também delicioso é constatar o quanto o falecido Zbigniew “Grande Tabuleiro de Xadrez” Brzezinski foi “inspirado” por Mackinder depois da dissolução da URSS – defendendo que a então fraca Rússia fosse dividida em três regiões: uma europeia, uma siberiana e uma área no Extremo Oriente.

Cobertos todos os nodos
Mapa
No auge do momento unipolar, a história parecia “acabada”. As duas periferias – ocidental e oriental – da Eurásia estavam sob férreo controle ocidental – na Alemanha e no Japão, os dois nodos críticos na Europa e no Leste da Ásia. Havia também um nodo extra, na periferia sul da Eurásia, a saber o Oriente Médio, rico em energia.

Washington havia estimulado o desenvolvimento de uma União Europeia multilateral, que poderia eventualmente chegar a rivalizar com os EUA em alguns domínios tecnológicos, mas que, sobretudo, permitiria aos EUA conter a Rússia, à distância, servindo-se de agentes-representantes locais.

A China não passava de base deslocalizada de mão de obra para manufatura de baixo custo, para a expansão do capitalismo ocidental. O Japão não só continuava, para todas as finalidades práticas, ocupado, mas estava instrumentalizado, via o Banco Asiático de Desenvolvimento, BAD (ing. Asian Development Bank, ADB), cujo lema era “só financiamos seus projetos se vocês forem politicamente corretos”.

O objetivo primário, mais uma vez, era impedir qualquer convergência entre potências europeias e leste-asiáticas como rivais dos EUA.

A confluência entre comunismo e Guerra Fria foi essencial para impedir a integração da Eurásia. Washington configurou uma espécie de sistema tributário do bem – tomado emprestado da China Imperial – que visava a garantir unipolaridade perpétua. Foi mantido como tal por um aparato militar, diplomático, econômico e clandestino, com papel de vedete para o Império de Bases que Chalmers Johnson-definiu que cercava, continha e dominava a Eurásia.

Comparem-se esse passado recente idílico e o pior pesadelo de Brzezinski – e de Henry Kissinger – que se pode definir hoje como a “vingança da história”.

O que se vê hoje é a parceria estratégica Rússia-China, de energia ao comércio, interpolando a geoeconomia Rússia-China; o movimento concertado para afastar-se do EUA-dólar; o BAII e o Novo Banco de Desenvolvimento dos (B)RICS* envolvidos no financiamento de infraestrutura; o upgrade no campo da alta tecnologia incorporado no projeto Made in China 2025; o push na direção de um mecanismo alternativo de compensações bancárias (um novo SWIFT); estocagem de reservas massivas em ouro; e o papel político-econômico expandido da Organização de Cooperação de Xangai, OCX [ing. Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO).

Como Glenn Diesen formula em seu brilhante livro Russia’s Geo-economic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia, “as fundações de um núcleo eurasiano podem criar força gravitacional que puxe a rimland [“as bordas marítimas”] para o centro.”

Se o processo complexo, multivetorial, de longo prazo da integração da Eurásia puder ser resumido numa única fórmula, será alguma coisa como: o Coração Continental do Mundo vai-se integrando progressivamente; as rimlands [“bordas marítimas”] assoladas em incontáveis campos de batalhas; e o poder do hegemon em processo de dissolução que o faz parar. Mahan, Mackinder e Spykman que o salve? Não basta.

Dividir e Governar, revisitado
O Oráculo ainda fala
O mesmo se aplica ao Oráculo de Delfos pós-moderno, também conhecido como Henry Kissinger, simultaneamente aureolado como santo e amaldiçoado como criminoso de guerra.

Antes da posse de Trump, houve muita discussão em Washington sobre como Kissinger poderia arquitetar – para Trump – um movimento de “pivô para a Rússia” como ele próprio imaginara fazer há 45 anos. Eis como pintei, naquela época, esse teatro de sombras.

No fim, são variações, sempre, de Dividir e Governar – separar a Rússia da China e vice-versa. Em teoria, Kissinger aconselhou Trump a “reequilibrar” na direção da Rússia, para se opor à forte ascensão dos chineses. Não aconteceu, não só porque a parceria estratégica Rússia-China é muito firme, mas também porque, no Departamento de Estado, neoconservadores e imperialistas ‘humanitários’ mobilizaram toda sua gangue para vetar a ideia.

O pensamento de Brzezinski, de Guerra Fria perpétua ainda comanda uma mistura fluida de Doutrina Wolfowitz e Choque de Civilizações. A Doutrina Wolfowitz russofóbica – ainda protegida por sigilo total – é a receita que leva a declarar a Rússia ameaça existencial perene top contra os EUA. O Choque, por sua vez, codifica outra variante de Guerra Fria 2.0: Oriente (tipo China) versus Ocidente.

Kissinger está tentando ele próprio algum rebalancing/hedging [reequilibramento/cobertura?], observando que o erro que Ocidente (e OTAN) estão cometendo “é supor que haja algum tipo de evolução histórica que avançará pela Eurásia – e não compreendem que em algum ponto dessa marcha o Ocidente encontrará algo muito diferente de uma entidade Vestfaliana”.

Ambos os estados, a Rússia Eurasianista e a China estado-civilização, já estão, hoje, em modo pós-Vestfália. O redesenho atinge camadas profundas. Inclui um tratado-chave assinado em 2001, apenas poucas semanas depois do 11/9, pelo qual as duas nações renunciam a qualquer demanda ou projeto territorial sobre o território uma da outra. Tem a ver, crucialmente, com o território Primorsky, no Extremo Oriente da Rússia, ao longo do rio Amur, e que foi governado pelos impérios Ming e Qing.

Além disso, Rússia e China comprometem-se a jamais permitir que terceiros usem os respectivos territórios para agredir a soberania, a segurança e a integridade territorial do outro, ou negociar essa questão com terceiros.

Tiveram de desistir de pôr a Rússia contra a China. Em vez disso, passaram a desenvolver, sete dias por semanas, 24 horas/dia, variações de contenção militar e econômica, pelos EUA, contra Rússia, China e Irã – os nodos chaves da integração da Eurásia – num espectro geoestratégico. As variações incluirão também intersecções do Coração Continental do Mundo e Bordas Marítimas na Síria, Ucrânia, Afeganistão e Mar do Sul da China. A coisa avançará paralelamente à ação do Fed, de manejar o EUA-dólar como arma, o quanto queira.

Heráclito Desafia Voltaire

Alastair Crooke oferece reflexão de longo alcance, na qual desconstrói algumas das razões pelas quais o modo como os russos conceptualizam a Eurásia inspira tamanho pavor às elites ocidentais. Aconteceria assim porque aquelas elites “‘farejam’ uma invisível reversão aos antigos valores, a valores pré-socráticos: para os antigos (…) nem a noção de ‘homem’ existia. Só havia homens: gregos, romanos, bárbaros, sírios e assim por diante. Nessa ideia há oposição óbvia a um ‘homem’ universal, cosmopolita.”

Trata-se de Heráclito versus Voltaire – até o “humanismo” como o recebemos do Iluminismo está de fato acabado. Onde seja deixada solta, nossa selva de espelhos depende do vaivém irascível dos humores da Deusa do Mercado. Não surpreende que um dos efeitos da progressiva integração da Eurásia será um golpe mortal não só contra Bretton Woods, mas também contra o neoliberalismo “democrático.”

O que temos agora é também versão remasterizada de poder do mar versus poder da terra. Russofobia incansável equivale a medo insuperável de uma reaproximação Rússia-Alemanha – como desejava Bismarck, e em direção à qual Putin e Merkel sinalizaram recentemente. Pesadelo supremo para os EUA é, mesmo, que se construa parceria verdadeiramente eurasiana, Pequim-Berlin-Moscou.

A Iniciativa Cinturão e Estrada (ICE) ainda nem começou; segundo o cronograma oficial de Pequim, estamos na fase de planejamento. A implantação começa ano que vem. O horizonte é 2039.

Trata-se da China jogando uma partida de GO cheio de esteroides, à distância, operando para tomar as melhores decisões estratégicas, e cada vez melhores (sempre com margens para erros, é claro) para deixar o oponente tão impotente que ele nem perceberá que está sob ataque.

As Novas Rotas da Seda foram lançadas por Xi Jinping há cinco anos, em Astana (o Cinturão Econômico da Rota da Seda) e em Jakarta (a Rota da Seda Marítima). Washington precisou de meia década para encontrar alguma resposta. E quando a resposta veio, não passava de uma avalanche de sanções e tarifas. Não basta. Precisam melhorar.

A Rússia por sua vez foi forçada a anunciar um show hipnotizante de armamentos para dissuadir os proverbiais aventureiros do Partido da Guerra, provavelmente sem guerra – ao mesmo tempo em que exibe a Rússia no papel de co-cabeça de um jogo completamente novo.

Em níveis superpostos de espiral crescente, a parceria Rússia-China não para; exemplos recentes incluem as reuniões de cúpula em Cingapura, Astana e São Petersburgo; a reunião de cúpula da OCX em Qingdao; e a cúpula dos (B)RICS Plus.

Com a península europeia da Ásia plenamente integrada antes de meados desse século – via ferrovias de alta velocidade, fibras óticas, oleogasodutos – no coração massivo, crescente, da Eurásia, é fim de jogo. Não é de estranhar que as elites do Excepcionalistão já comecem a sentir uma corda de seda muito finamente desenhada que lhes aperta o pescoço elegante.

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