Early in the discussion, Citigroup Chief Economist Willem Buiter offered an obvious but unpleasant fact: "Growth is not a policy. aEUR? There is no growth button." Rather, it's an outcome that depends on incentives and other supportive conditions.
The panel, moderated by CNBC's Maria Bartiromo, offered a parade of worries, including debt-ridden economies and weak consumers in the developed countries. In other words, the traditional stable markets are looking shaky. The U.S. is not Europe, of course, but it's having a hard time keeping up its role as the robust core of the international system. Uncertainties about the next phase for the U.S. and Europe, PIMCO's Mohamed El-Erian intoned gravely, are rising to uncomfortable levels.
Nevertheless, sectors of the U.S. economy had their boosters on the panel. Terry Duffy, chief executive of the CME Group, talked up the energy revolution brought about by new mega-supplies of domestic natural gas and the vast demand building for health-care services. El-Erian emphasized that the U.S. is still the center of the global technology complex and that the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley is as vibrant as ever.
But broadly speaking, the better prospects are in the emerging markets, most of the panel agreed. Despite fears of a slowdown in China, largely as a result of weaker export markets, there was optimism about the Asian titan. Throngs more may soon enter the middle class, a transition that may be engineered by the leadership to compensate for weakness overseas. Of course, that could mean opportunities for U.S. and European exporters as the global center of consumer gravity migrates eastward.
But the challenges of such a restructuring may be acute for Beijing: including enabling the masses to feel secure about pensions so they can spend in the here and now; softening tensions around income inequality; and dealing with a disruptive regime on its border, aka North Korea.
Buiter had the most to say about global risk, and much of it swirled around China. War and peace may eventually become a concern, he opined, as China builds a world-class military. He reminded everyone about the tendency of emerging markets to get overleveraged, too, harkening back to the 1990s.
Yet even Buiter is bullish on the developing world. His best ideas? Mexico and Indonesia.
The full video is available here.