New column: New world order

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I’ve got a new column online and in the issue of TIME with Walter Isaacson’s How to Save Your Newspaper (which I hope to tear into here later) on the cover. It begins:

In recent weeks, the world has been politely standing by and watching how things play out with the fiscal stimulus and latest bank-bailout plans in Washington. Yes, there’s been some grumbling overseas about “buy American” provisions in the stimulus bill, but for the most part, officials elsewhere don’t want to step on the toes of a new President to whom they are favorably disposed. They also don’t want to endanger legislation that they hope will help jump-start the global economy.

Just wait a couple of months, though. Politicians from Beijing to Berlin to Brasília see the current crisis as the product of a messed-up global financial infrastructure dominated by the U.S., and they will soon be pushing for big changes–whether Americans like them or not.

All this will begin to gel on April 2, when the newish international organization known as the G-20–the leaders of 19 of the world’s biggest national economies, plus the European Union–meets in London. An unofficial meeting has already taken place, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where G-20 officials (with the conspicuous exception of those from the U.S.) made speeches, conversed in the halls and gave a sense of the direction in which the world outside the U.S. wants to head.

The global discussion of the financial crisis is strikingly different from the one in the U.S. Here there’s still something of a debate over whether the mess is the result of too much government interference in the housing market or too little government regulation of financial markets. In the rest of the world, that’s no debate: inadequate and inconsistent financial regulation is uniformly blamed. What’s more, a consensus seems to have emerged among the world’s finance ministers and central-bank bosses that the chief underlying cause of the crisis was an unbalanced and out-of-control system of global capital flows in which some big-spender countries (namely the U.S.) ran up huge debts while big savers (China and India, for example) hoarded surpluses. Read more.

If you’re interested in yet more on the topic, Peter Gumbel and Michael Elliott have a much more in-depth piece that’s running in TIME’s international editions.