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Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics

Expertise

U.S. and international macroeconomic policy; debt restructuring and debt policy; financial markets.

Programs

The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance , The Global Economics Roundtable Series

Bio

Robert Kahn is the Steven A. Tananbaum senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. Kahn has held positions in the public and private sectors, with expertise in macroeconomic policy, finance, and crisis resolution.

Prior to joining CFR, Kahn was a senior strategist with Moore Capital Management, where his portfolio spanned Group of Seven (G7) monetary and fiscal policy, regulatory reform, debt policy and debt workouts, and the crisis in Europe. Prior to that, he was a senior advisor in the financial policy department at the World Bank, where he focused on financial sector assessments for developing economies and was the Bank's liaison to the secretariat of the Financial Stability Forum.

Kahn also held staff positions at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where he worked on public policy and the resolution of debt crises in emerging markets. He was a member of the IMF team that worked closely with Korean authorities in 1997–1998 to develop a system for comprehensive monitoring and reporting of external debt and reserves, and subsequently was involved in development of the Fund's policy for private sector involvement in crisis resolution.

Kahn has held various senior-level positions at Citigroup and was the managing director and head of the sovereign advisory group. He served as the head of the Office of Industrial Nations at the U.S. Treasury from 1995 to 1996. He was also a senior economist at the Council of Economic Advisers from 1990 to 1991, as well as the Federal Reserve Board from 1984 to 1990 and from 1991 to 1992.

Kahn received his BA from the University of Chicago and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Sanctions in the Twenty-First Century

The imposition of financial sanctions in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea represents a new application of sanctions to address foreign policy disputes. After September 11, the United States began targeting financial systems, effectively cutting off adversaries' access to financing. Over the next decade, sanctions were used successfully against al-Qaeda, Iran, and North Korea. The use of sanctions against Russia in 2014 is different, though, not only because of Russia's size and global importance, but also because the scale and complexity of Russia's ties to global economic markets may make it particularly vulnerable to sanctions that restrict access to trade and investment. My research assesses the short and longer-term cost of these sanctions, as well as the implications for their use elsewhere. Will we see a greater reliance on sanctions in the future? If so, will the risk of their misuse also grow? I will also consider what policymakers will need to keep in mind when considering their use. U.S. policymakers need to balance the benefits of financial sanctions against the costs of weakening the deep global financial markets for countries that adhere to international norms. These results will be presented in a CFR Council Special Report.

Strengthening the Framework for Sovereign Debt Restructuring

The difficulties associated with the Greek debt crisis and Argentina's ongoing legal standoff with holdout creditors has renewed calls to rethink policy for sovereign debt crises. Reformists have called for new statutory bodies that could resolve sovereign bankruptcies and rules to change the terms and conditions of IMF lending. But reformists have the case wrong. Sovereign debt markets largely work well, and the current official strategy—which emphasizes debtors negotiating market-based restructurings with IMF support—has proven effective at allowing most countries to exit crisis when facing distress. More could be done to improve the contracts on existing debt. But my larger concern is that creditor governments and the IMF are too slow to act, unwilling to address a persistent debt overhang in the eurozone, and adopting unrealistic assumptions about debt sustainability in Ukraine. I examine this issue on my blog (for example here and here) and in my July 2013 monthly report "Lessons Learned from Greece". I am also writing several articles and a book on the history of sovereign debt crises and prospects for meaningful reform.

The Growing Geopolitical Threat to Financial Markets

Financial markets are forward looking. Investors make decisions in light of all available knowledge about risk. Why then, in the midst of political upheavals in Europe and the Middle East, have markets been until recently so quiescent? I have already explored the dynamics underlying this tension and argued that the sea of global liquidity created by extraordinary monetary policy in the industrial world, as well as the seeming remoteness of potential risks, has allowed market participants to continue to price a benign view of future global economic growth. But such a scenario is unlikely to last for long, particularly as the political upheavals we currently face are not easily solved. The weakness of the eurozone economy is one place where political crisis could spill into financial trouble. In a series of monthly reports, op-eds and articles, I identify where else and how political risk might translate into financial distress, and how if at all the possibility of sharp market corrections should influence the policy debate.

Featured Publications

Foreign Affairs Article

Putin's Lehman Moment

Author: Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn argues that the West should be ready to impose more robust economic sanctions against Russia, in order to deter it from further infiltrating or destabilizing Ukraine. Russia's economic complexity means sanctions would meaningfully reduce Russian wealth and growth, since Russian oligarchs and business leaders have significant financial stakes in the West.

See more in Russia and Central Asia; Sanctions

All Publications

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly December 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn writes that financial markets rallied following the U.S. election, on hopes that President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s fiscal stimulus and deregulation initiatives would spur corporate profits and growth. Perhaps so, but a strong case could be made for the opposite: that Trump’s economic agenda will prove disruptive to trade and growth, face growing headwinds in Congress, and exert a contractionary impact on the U.S. economy. 

See more in Americas; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly November 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the Group of Twenty (G20) policymakers agree on the importance of stronger and more inclusive growth to address growing populism, but disagree on who—central banks, treasuries, or legislatures—should take the lead. This standoff all but guarantees that the global recovery will continue to disappoint.

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly September 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that at the Group of Twenty (G20) Summit in Hangzhou, China, leaders called for governments to do more to support growth, but offered little in the way of new measures. Quietly, and away from the G20 spotlight, fiscal policy is becoming more expansionary, but current policies are unlikely to provide a meaningful boost to growth or soothe rising populist pressures.

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly August 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that markets have absorbed the initial economic shock from Brexit, but navigating the new landscape will remain a challenge. Two months after the vote, the politics of Brexit is producing a lengthy and uncertain renegotiation of Britain’s place in Europe and the world. Such extended uncertainty is likely to produce a long-lasting drag on both UK and European economies, which could ultimately threaten the viability of the European Union (EU).

See more in Europe; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly July 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that summer has seemingly brought a new optimism about the Russian economy. Russia’s economic downturn is coming to an end, and markets have outperformed amidst global turbulence.  But the coming recovery is likely to be tepid, constrained by deficits and poor structural policies, and sanctions will continue to bite. Brexit-related concerns are also likely to weigh on oil prices and demand. All this suggests that Russia’s economy will have a limited capacity to respond to future shocks.

See more in Russia and Central Asia; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly May 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the crisis in Venezuela continues to escalate, with no recovery or relief in sight. A messy and chaotic default looms, and the rescue will likely involve a tough adjustment program, large-scale financing from international policymakers, and deep sacrifices from Venezuela’s creditors and, most of all, the Venezuelan people. China’s role, as Venezuela’s largest creditor, will be critical and precedential for other emerging market commodity exporters with too much debt.

See more in Americas; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly April 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the case for strong and effective Group of Twenty (G20) leadership is as compelling as ever. But if the G20 is to be as effective in noncrisis times as it was in 2008–2009, it needs stronger Chinese leadership, working informally yet closely with the United States—a Group of Two (G2) within the G20. Debt policy is one area where China and the United States should cooperate this year.

See more in Global; Economics

Testimony

Energy Prices and Crisis Risks

Author: Robert Kahn

Robert Kahn testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, describing the crisis risks generated by persistently low oil and gas prices. He argued that the risks are especially acute for energy exporters such as Venezuela and Nigeria, and that such countries need sizable policy adjustments in the immediate future.

See more in Americas; Global; Oil; Financial Crises

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly March 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) deserves credit for effectively responding to the global and European financial crises. However, the institution will face different and potentially more difficult challenges in the next five years as it struggles to come to terms with a changing international power order and lending rules that are not well suited to address future crises.

See more in Global; Economics

Foreign Affairs Article

The IMF’s Next Five Years

Author: Robert Kahn

In the next five years, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will face new challenges as it struggles to come to terms with a rapidly changing global marketplace and with lending rules poorly suited for the crises the institution will likely face. These challenges will force the IMF to scrutinize and adjust its lending rules. A broader issue is also at play: financial markets are becoming bigger more quickly than the institution’s resources are, and IMF rescue alone may be insufficient in the future . How the financing burden is shared with other official creditors will help determine whether the fund is an effective leader of the global effort to prevent and resolve economic crises in the coming decades.

 

See more in Global; International Finance; International Organizations and Alliances

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly January 2016

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that 2016 looks set to be a volatile year in which geopolitics and hard-to-quantify policy dilemmas create significant uncertainty in markets. Policymakers will be asked to make tough decisions about where and when to intervene in markets at a time when their capacity to deal with crisis is increasing challenged, suggesting the road ahead could continue to be bumpy.

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly December 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the European Union (EU) faces rising populist pressure, reflecting long-term challenges to economic policymaking that can only partly be addressed by a cyclical recovery and debt relief. By strengthening the credibility of economic policy and the region’s resilience to shocks, better policy coordination and a faster path to economic union would go far toward securing a better economic future for Europe and addressing some underlying causes of populism.

See more in Europe; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly November 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that the concerns driven by China's economic problems are modest compared to the 1997 Asian financial crisis or the Great Recession. However, there are reasons for concern: large financial imbalances, weak global growth, inadequate official resources, and political pressures. While a severe global financial crisis remains a tail risk, policymakers need to be prepared to respond. 

See more in Global; Economics

Other Report

Global Economics Monthly: October 2015

Author: Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics Robert Kahn argues that China's growth prospect lies somewhere between hard-landing and muddle-through scenarios. However, uncertainty remains and is already being felt strongly and likely to put increasing pressure on emerging markets through trade contraction and financial contagion. For the United States, fragility in emerging markets is the critical risk and will dominate economic decision-making for months if not years to come. 

See more in Global; Economics

Recent Activity from Macro and Markets

Events

The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance

Director: Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics
March 2013—Present

The Roundtable Series on International Economics and Finance aimes to engender dialogue on implications of global economic events, with an emphasis on issues on which policymaker and market-participant views differ. The series is based in New York, New York.

The Global Economics Roundtable Series

Director: Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics
February 2013—Present

The Global Economic Roundtable Series aims to bring together current and past economic policy makers to dissect policy challenges to U.S. and foreign economies. The series is based in Washington, DC.

CFR Events

Symposium ⁄ New York

More Europe, Less Europe, or a Different Europe

Panelists Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Sebastian Mallaby

Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Constanze Stelzenmuller

Robert Bosch Senior Fellow, Center on the United States and Europe, Brookings Institution


Presider Gary Rosen

Editor, Weekend Review, Wall Street Journal

March 22, 2016

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen Watch

Meeting

Media Call: The Federal Reserve's Interest Rate Decision

Speakers Benn Steil

Senior Fellow and Director of International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Michael A. Levi

David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

The Implications of the Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision

September 18, 2015 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.


The Implications of the Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision

September 18, 2015 11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

September 18, 2015

This meeting is on the record.

Read Listen

Meeting

Media Call: Greek Bailout Agreement

Speaker Robert Kahn

Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Douglas A. Rediker

Visiting Fellow, Peterson Institute for International Economics; Former Member, Executive Board, International Monetary Fund

July 13, 2015

This meeting is not for attribution.

Meeting ⁄ Washington

What to Do About Russia and Ukraine

Speakers Karen E. Donfried

President, German Marshall Fund of the United States

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Stephen Sestanovich

George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations


Presider Richard N. Haass

President, Council on Foreign Relations

June 9, 2014 6:00–6:15 p.m. - Registration
6:15–7:30 p.m. - Meeting
7:30–8:00 p.m. - Reception

This meeting is on the record.

Read ListenWatch

Meeting

Media Call: Greek Debt Crisis

Speakers Sebastian Mallaby

Paul A. Volcker Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

, Kenneth S. Rogoff

Senior Fellow for Economics, Council on Foreign Relations; Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics, Harvard University


Presider Neil Irwin

Senior Economics Correspondent, New York Times

This meeting is not for attribution.

Meeting

Corporate Conference Call: Making Sense of China's Markets

Speaker Patrick Chovanec

Managing Director and Chief Strategist, Silvercrest Asset Management Group LLC; Adjunct Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University


Presider Robert Kahn

Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics, Council on Foreign Relations

This meeting is on the record.

Press/Panels