Where in the world is growth increasing?
Take your time. I'll give you a minute to think about it. This is a depressingly difficult question.
While you mull it over, here's where growth isn't increasing: China, Europe, or Great Britain. The central banks for all three eased policy on Thursday in response to their deteriorating outlooks. To put that in perspective, they collectively make up almost 40 percent of the global economy.
If you prefer your goods news colored with bad news, this simultaneous central bank action was for you. The good news is that central banks aren't completely oblivious to how bad things are. The bad news is everything else: China has been slowing down for months, the neverending euro crisis has thrown the continent back into recession, and England's current slump has been worse for them than the Great Depression. The People's Bank of China's (PBoC) 0.31 percentage point rate cut -- its second in just a month -- was unexpected, but the European Central Bank Bank's (ECB) 0.25 percentage point rate cut and the Bank of England's (BOE) additional £50 billion ($77.6 billion) of bond-buying were not.
They were belated.
I don't mean to pick on them. Things aren't much better anywhere else. The U.S. economy is still growing -- but in fits and starts. A strong winter has once again given way to a not-so-strong summer. Escape velocity this is not. Then there are Brazil and India. Their growth has slowed even more sharply.
The below chart from Markit Economics (via Business Insider) shows global manufacturing activity for June. Green areas show countries where activity is expanding; red areas show countries where activity is contracting. With a few exceptions, the green areas are less green and the red areas are more red than they were the previous month.
The only bright spot -- which is ironically not so in the chart above -- is Africa. It has grown rather impressively since the financial crisis hit. Believe it or not, the only country that recorded better annual growth than China the previous decade was Angola. That all looks poised to continue -- barring another global meltdown.
That brings us back to central banks. This isn't 2008. Financial armageddon isn't about to throw us into the abyss all at once -- right, Europe? Instead, we're just inching towards the abyss. It's a slow-motion slowdown that policymakers have been slow to react to. Central bankers are starting to get the memo. But they need to step on the pedal much, much harder. God knows politicians on both sides of the Atlantic won't.
It's a preventable crisis that central bankers need to prevent.
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Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.