Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that a leaderless world is sleepwalking towards a repeat of its near meltdown of the last significant financial crisis a decade ago. 

Britain’s former prime minister – during the period when the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression – said that after a decade of stagnation the global economy is now moving into a “decade of vulnerability.”

We are in danger of sleepwalking into a future crisis,” Brown told The Guardian in a recent interview at his estate in Scotland. “There is going to have to be a severe awakening to the escalation of risks, but we are in a leaderless world.”

The former prime minister, who lost the 2010 election following Britain’s deepest recession on a post-war basis, said that countercyclical measures by governments and central banks have become widely exhausted. He warned the ability for global central banks to drop interest rates is not as readily possible today as it was a decade ago, while finance ministries would also have difficulty injecting fiscal stimulus, and here is the surprise: there is no guarantee that China would bail out the world, again.

“The cooperation that was seen in 2008 would not be possible in a post-2018 crisis both in terms of central banks and governments working together. We would have a blame-sharing exercise rather than solving the problem.”

Brown had its doubts that China would be as cooperative for the second time to provide a global stimulus, primarily due to the Trump administration’s trade war launched squarely at Beijing. “Trump’s protectionism is the biggest barrier to building international cooperation,” he said.

Brown said the last crisis had its roots in the US real estate sector, with massive losses sustained on subprime mortgages cascading through global markets. Brown warned this time – the trigger to the next global meltdown would be much larger.

“It is very difficult to say what will trigger it [the next crisis] but we are at the latter end of the economic cycle where people take greater risks. There are problems in emerging markets.”

Brown told the Guardian that an area of focus should be commercial and industrial lending at a time when the Federal Reserve is entering into a period of quantitative tightening. “It could arise in Asia because of the amount of lending through the shadow banking system.”

He also warned that “in an interconnected world there is an escalation of risks. We have had a decade of stagnation and we are now about to have a decade of vulnerability.”

Recalling the freeze up of credit markets a decade ago, Brown said governments had sought to compensate for the lack of trust between banks by cooperating more closely, however he warned that this cooperation would not repeat next time, when blame takes over cooperation: “In the next crisis a breakdown of trust in the financial sector would be mirrored by breakdown in trust between governments. There wouldn’t be the same willingness to cooperate but rather a tendency to blame each other for what’s gone wrong.”

Like many others, Brown lamented the creeping end of globalization and its replacement with populism and nationalism, a process which is largely the result of the trends that resulted in the great financial crisis, and said that “countries have retreated into nationalist silos and that has brought us protectionism and populism. Problems that are global as well as national and local are not being addressed. Countries are at war with each other on trade, climate change and nuclear proliferation.”

One can almost imagine which particular US president he was “not” talking about.

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Of course, when it comes to the timing of the next global crisis it is anyone’s guess at this point, as Brown for obvious reasons did not offer insights on when the next meltdown could occur. For more insight on the impending turmoil that Brown could not provide, the latest Société Générale report titled “Storm clouds gathering,” showed that the downside global risks are intensifying. The French bank believes the US expansion is stable for now, but the next recession looms in 2019/20. 

Here is SocGen’s Swan Chart of global risks (more on that in a post shortly) that are mounting and could derail global growth in the near term, thus triggering a sharp repricing in financial markets. While everything is awesome today and in some cases, the “greatest ever,” it seems as financial turbulence is just around the corner. 


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