Tea Leaf: ABCs of the world economy

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 21 2010 5:00 p.m. MST

In this January photo, firefighters chant slogans outside the Greek Parliament during a protest in central Athens. About 2,000 firefighters demonstrated against planned spending cuts by the center-left government, which is struggling to reform Greece's debt-ridden economy and plug a vast budget deficit.

Petros Giannakouris, Associated Press

This is the companion piece to last month's "Domestic ABCs."

Austerity — This describes the painful focus on limiting or reducing government spending across southern Europe as European authorities, the IMF and global financial markets demand various nations live within their means. What a concept!

Budget deficits — Unprecedented government spending around the world to offset financial chaos during the past 28 months led budget deficits in too many countries to astronomical levels. Excessive government spending must be reduced, sooner rather than later.

China — The world's second-largest economy continues to grow at a rapid rate. Government efforts to keep inflation and excessive lending under control could see growth slow — from 120 mph to around 90.

Dollar — Despite constant bad-mouthing about the U.S. dollar by critics around the globe, the greenback held its own during 2010: up versus the euro, down versus the yen, flat versus a weighted index.

Europe — The "more and more" government moves of recent decades have come home to roost in southern Europe. Stronger euro nations now get to spend a fortune to hold Europe (and the euro) together. See "A" above.

Financial system — The U.S. and global financial systems emerged from the Great Recession bruised and battered, but still largely viable. Did we learn anything about minimizing the chance of a similar meltdown in the future?

Global economy — Reasonably solid growth led by Asia, the U.S., Brazil and Africa seems likely in 2011. Europe will be sluggish (with the exception of a strong German economy).

Hunger — A child starves to death every six seconds somewhere in the world. Can't we work together to stop this travesty?

India — The world's largest democracy continues to record solid growth, tied in part to strong domestic demand. A wish? Rising exports.

Japan — This nation is seeing modest economic growth, although it pales versus the '60s, '70s and '80s. The "lost decade" of the '90s could now be stretched to include the following decade as well.

Korea (North) — Massive failure of this centrally planned economy leads to frequent "saber rattling." Will new leadership (daddy's boy) ever right this ship?

Latin & South America — Most nations in the region will see growth prospects improve during 2011. Problems with excessive red tape, bungling bureaucracy and corruption will limit gains.

Mexico — The troubled tourism sector, damaged in a big way during the past two years, could see more of its future tied to successes — and failures — in the government's critical struggle with drug cartels.

Neighbor to the North — Canadian economic growth has slowed in recent months. Unemployment is at a two-year low of 7.6 percent, although the growth pace of part-time jobs is outpacing full-time employment.

Oil — Massive oil discoveries around the globe and improving technology could help keep prices under control over the longer-term horizon. However, we may flirt with $100 oil in the near term.

Politics — A number of major nations have moved to the "right" in recent elections, intent on undoing some of the major expansion of their governments in recent years.

Quagmires — As before, there never seems to be a shortage. Today's list still includes Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iran, Iraq, the Sudan and the Middle East.

Russia — Widespread corruption, crime and questions about whether Medvedev or Putin will be "minding the store" in coming years makes life oh-so-challenging.

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