Having spent the weekend at an event organized by a major bank for its hyper-wealthy clients--don't get the wrong idea, I was just part of the entertainment--I came away with much greater awareness of two important dividing lines in the world economy today.
The first is between the entrepreneur and the financier. The super-rich get that way by one of two routes. They either inherit their wealth from their parents, or they build a business from scratch and then sell it off to a larger entity. In either case, the financiers play an important supporting role: they help maintain and grow the wealth generated by the family business and they arrange the deals that allow the multi-billion dollar takeovers. But it was evident at the meeting that they get no respect from the entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs view financiers as people with no understanding of business, who are as likely to ruin them as help them grow. We generate the jobs, the wealth, and take all the risk, they say. If we fail, no-one bails us out. Financiers, on the other hand...
The second dividing line today is between the pessimism that pervades the U.S. and Europe and the pervasive optimism of entrepreneurs from emerging (emerged?) nations. The financial crisis that is still growing has left business people from the advanced nations in a very dark mood. Whether a recession is around the corner, or has already arrived, no-one in the first world thinks 2008 is going to be a good year. It is all shades of pessimism.
But if you talk to businessmen (alas they were all men) from India, Russia, China, Turkey or the Gulf States, you would hardly know that we have just experienced a credit market freeze-out in the West. They are all ho-hum about it. Yeah, we could shave a point or two off our growth estimates, they say, if the U.S. goes into a deep recession, but it's no big deal--and can you pass the wine please. Indians are saying we don't rely that much on exports anyhow; the Chinese are relying on their growing middle class; and others have their own stories.
Is this the famous "decoupling" at work? Will this be the beginning of a new era of the world economy, with several key developing countries, the BRICs and the N-11 (using the faddish terms that attach to them), gaining real ascendancy over their Western counterparts?
Probably not. But something interesting is going on.