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Economic leaders and heads of state gather in Davos to discuss global challenges

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Many of the world's economic and political leaders are gathering at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week to discuss the globe's many challenges, which includes soaring inflation, supply chain disruptions and also the war in Ukraine. With us now to take the temperature of the global economy is Ken Rogoff. He's a professor of international economics at Harvard and a former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund. He's joining us now from Davos. Ken, you're there. How do all the bigwigs there feel about the world's economy right now?

KEN ROGOFF: Well, you know, surprisingly, despite all the list of things you said, they're - at least the CEOs - there are a lot of them here - feel better than I feel about the world economy. But, you know, maybe they don't see what's coming around the corner is all I can say.

MARTÍNEZ: Have they indicated why they would feel so good about it?

ROGOFF: I think part of it is China was in lockdown. Like, 10% of the population has been in lockdown at any one point the last few years. And everyone else who's not in lockdown is afraid they're in lockdown. So they don't go out shopping. They don't go out buying stuff. Chinese tourists have - all over the world, they haven't been going. So this idea that China is back, whether it is or not, I think that's the single thing that has them the most excited. I don't know why they're not more worried about the war in the Ukraine.

MARTÍNEZ: So why are you not as excited as them?

ROGOFF: Well, I mean, I think it's a few things. One is I am more worried about the war in Ukraine. I was with the Ukrainian parliamentarians this morning and, you know, talking about, you know, the problems and the uncertainties. And I don't know what's around the corner there. But then on the economic side, interest rates have been going up. They've been going up a lot. We haven't seen that in many decades. And you don't feel the pain right away. And so I think there's worse to come. I hope they're right. But my gut instinct is, you know, it's still a pretty - 2023 is possibly going to be the worst year we've had besides 2008 and, you know, the pandemic.

MARTÍNEZ: You're a bit of a bummer, Ken. I was about to say, I mean, that is a bleak prediction for the upcoming year.

ROGOFF: Yeah, I mean, there's bad years, and there's bad years. The pandemic was just horrible. And the global financial crisis is horrible. With luck, this'll be sort of a very mediocre year where inflation's still too high. You know, growth isn't as good as we'd like. But on the bright side, I will say, in the United States in particular, jobs have still been strong. Productivity might not be strong. So we're not, like, making as much as we'd like. But it's definitely not all bad at the moment, not at all. The question is what lies around the corner? And there are just a lot of risks. And let's go back to Russia and the Ukraine. I - maybe I'm, you know, too pessimistic, but I don't see an end game. And so it worries me that there are more shocks to come. That's the big thing, that and the pandemic.

MARTÍNEZ: Considering how the war in Ukraine has been such a big part of why the economy - the world economy is the way it is, if you don't see an end game, yeah, I could see why their - 2023 would not seem so great.

ROGOFF: It's so hard to know in a situation like this. But again, you know, when we're coming out of this pandemic, which we haven't seen in a hundred years, it's very hard to know what's around the corner. So I hope the CEOs here who are optimistic about what's going on, at least in the economy, prove to be right, that that's a silver lining in what I'm still saying is probably a tough year.

MARTÍNEZ: Ken Rogoff, professor of international economics at Harvard. Ken, thanks.

ROGOFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.