During the past one and a half years, the world economy has been hit by a series of shocks, notably the large rise in oil prices, the abrupt slowing of growth in the United States (initiated by the bursting of the speculative bubble in the ICT sector) and the events of 11 September. This resulted in a synchronised slowdown in the three major economic regions (the United States, Japan and the European Union) and a pronounced downturn in world trade.
It is obvious that Belgium, being a ‘small open economy’, cannot escape the prevailing slowdown in the world economy. The forecasts for all components of final demand have therefore been revised downwards for both 2001 and 2002 as compared to our July projections. Under these circumstances GDP would not exceed a growth rate of 1.1% this year and 1.3% in real terms next year. These average annual growth rates are based on slightly negative growth figures (quarter-on-quarter) during the second half of this year, while positive and steadily increasing quarterly growth rates should be recorded in 2002 due to a recovery in exports.
Domestic demand should increase by only 1.1% both this year and next, while average growth over the last five years has amounted to 2.5%. Exports should suffer from slackening world demand in 2001, consequently growing by only 0.8%. In 2002 exports should accelerate and reach an average annual growth of 2.8%, which is much slower than in the second half of the 1990s.The uncertainties surrounding these forecasts in the present political and economic situation should not be underestimated. The scenario on which the present forecasts are based assumes that the loss of consumer and business confidence will be of short duration, implying that the US economy will recover quickly next year. The consequences of the terrorist attacks of 11 September and the military response to those attacks may, however, have a more prolonged impact on investors’ and consumers’ confidence. As a final remark, it has to be underlined that the economic forecasts published in this STU were finalised before Sabena was declared bankrupt.
How has ICT influenced the path of economic growth? The purpose of this special topic is to provide the beginnings of an answer to this by analysing the economic performance of the United States and Europe during the 1990s.
The ICT industry has experienced tremendous growth during recent years, rapidly increasing production, creating large numbers of jobs and fostering expectations of sustained economic growth without recession. At the same time, the stock prices of dotcoms have skyrocketed, pushed by hopes of constantly growing profits. This irrational exuberance was transformed into a speculative technology-laden NASDAQ bubble. After many warnings, this bubble finally burst in April 2000. Since then, some economists seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and no one dares to exhibit confidence in a high-tech future. There is nothing new in this succession of events than what was already noticed by Schumpeter in the 1940s. Indeed, each wave of innovation has tended to produce the same sequence of events. The first phase has been a heady upswing as successful participants established themselves as leaders. Then has come the second phase as the market matures and returns to investors decline with a dwindling number of opportunities. Finally, a short and sharp decline occurs when a whole new set of technologies begin jostling for the attention of investors. The starting point of the analysis is therefore to ascertain whether ICT could be considered as such a radical innovation and consequently whether, after corrections of financial excess and over-investment, it will result in long-term benefits for the global economy.
Part of the answer can be found by analysing the economic performance of the United States, the home of ICT, during the nineties in comparison with European performance. This decade has indeed been marked by two historical records for the American economy : the longest expansion phase since 1850 and the lowest unemployment rate for 30 years.