A decade after the worst financial crisis of this century, workers, investors and pundits are trying to predict the next one. The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting was no exception, with several panels devoted to sussing out the world’s financial weak spots.
Regardless of when the next global crisis hits, though, one thing is likely: it will hit the United States worse than the rest of the world. That’s the conclusion based on research from Helene Rey, an economist at the London Business School.
That prediction stems from the difference between how the U.S. and the rest of the world invest their money, Rey said — and the fact that other countries tend to invest largely in U.S. dollars. Most of the time, that benefits the U.S. — so much so that when she first wrote about the phenomenon in 2005, Rey called it the U.S.’ “exorbitant privilege.”
The U.S.’ privilege in good times comes down to the fact that most investments the country makes abroad are in relatively risky assets, Rey said. She spoke with CBS News at the World Economic Forum annual meeting, which she attended as part of the European Research Council delegation.
“The type of investment that the U.S. [makes] in the rest of the world is unusually risky,” said Rey. On the other hand, other nations tend to invest in safe U.S. assets, in particular, the U.S. dollar. “These are safe, and they earn low yields.”
As a consequence, during a crisis — when most assets suffer a precipitous drop in value — the only assets that remain relatively stable are those in U.S. dollars. In this way, the U.S. acts as an insurer to the rest of the world, cushioning the blow.
“In that sense, the U.S. is doing worse than the rest of the world during the crisis,” Rey said. “However, at all the other times, the U.S. earns an extra return. Just like an insurer would get an insurance fee during normal times.”