As the quip has it, economists have correctly predicted nine out of the last five recessions. The widespread apprehension of a looming recession may yet turn out to be misplaced. But it is true that the long period of global economic expansion since the financial crisis of 2008/2009 will eventually end. The questions are only when and why. That said, the signs of an economic slowdown are many, especially in China, which has been the main engine of economic growth in recent years, and in Germany, where a contraction of its export-driven economy signals troubles elsewhere.
What makes the current situation especially worrisome is that the economic problems are not driven primarily by economic factors. Rather, politics has taken center stage in two dangerous ways. First, political dysfunction in leading countries in Europe is exacerbating economic difficulties, and populism is making it politically more risky to manage economies effectively. Second, political leaders, and first of all in the United States, are using punitive economic tools - sanctions and tariffs - to advance national security interests in ways that undermine the global economic system that has been the foundation of spreading prosperity for the last generation or more.