The latest November 2019 UBS/PwC Billionaires Report
counted 2,101 billionaires globally, or 589 more than five years before. Earlier, Farhad Manjoo
had seriously recommended, ‘Abolish Billionaires’, presenting a moral case against the super-rich as they have and get far, far more than what they might reasonably claim to deserve.
The social utility of billionaires’ existence has come under increased scrutiny, especially during the Democratic Party primaries for the 2020 US Presidential election. Leading newspapers, such as The New York Times, published opinion pieces arguing to abolish billionaires
and reflecting on why billionaires engage in illegal insider trading
Much recent unrest, such as the ‘yellow-vest’ protests in France and the US ‘Abolish the Super-Rich’ campaign
, is not against inequality per se, but reflects perceptions of changing inequalities. Most citizens resent inequalities when it is not only unacceptably high, but also rising.
Historically, most social security systems have developed in the formal sector of rich economies. However, most of the poor and hungry in the world live in rural areas, surviving in the informal economy.
Almost nine decades ago, newly elected US President Franklin Roosevelt introduced the New Deal
in 1933 in response to the Great Depression. The New Deal consisted of a number of mutually supportive initiatives, of which the most prominent were: a public works programme financed by budget deficits; a new social contract to improve living standards for all working families, including creation of the US social security system; and financial regulation to protect citizens’ assets and channel financial resources into productive investments.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO), all dominated by rich countries, have long promoted trade liberalization as a ‘win-win
’ solution for “all people—rich and poor—and all countries—developed and developing countries”, arguing that “the gains are large enough to enable compensation to be provided to the losers”.
Industrial policy refers to the promotion of new investments and technology by governments to encourage the growth and development of specific economic sectors. However, scepticism
persists about the feasibility and desirability of using industrial policy, especially of the ability to ‘pick winners’, often accused of leading to ‘propping-up failing industries’.
Public or state development banking will be vital to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, argues UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report 2019
Ongoing World Bank led efforts
seek to leverage private finance via shadow banking by using public money to guarantee handsome returns managed by giant investment houses
. Such financialization introduce new costs and risks
to financing investments for sustainable development, decent work and renewable energy.
The OECD Secretariat published its proposed ‘unified approach
’ to reform international tax rules to address tax challenges posed by digitalization on 9 October 2019.
Under current rules, there is little chance of a company being taxed without its physical presence in the country concerned. But digitalization enables many businesses to remotely conduct economic activities affecting a national economy without a direct physical presence.
Large transnational corporations (TNCs) are widely believed to be paying little tax. The ease with which they avoid tax and the declining corporate tax rates over the decades have deprived developing countries of much needed revenues besides undermining public faith in the tax system.
The US-China trade war has flared up again less than two weeks after US President Donald Trump delayed new tariffs of US$160 billion on Chinese imports until December, purportedly to avoid harming the holiday shopping season.
Recently, Christine Lagarde
, outgoing Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), argued that developing ‘countries need a seat at the table’ to design rules governing international corporate taxation.
This acknowledges recent IMF findings
that developing countries lose approximately USD200 billion in potential tax revenue yearly, about 1.3 per cent of their GDP, due to companies shifting profits to low-tax locations. Oxfam estimated
in 2018 that extreme poverty could be eradicated for USD107 billion annually, i.e., about half the lost revenue.
The harmful effects of falling corporate tax rates
have been acknowledged in a recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) research paper
. This trend, since the early 1980s, has been especially detrimental for developing countries, which rely on direct taxation
much more than developed economies.
According to their own internal evaluations, both the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have huge credibility deficits due to the policy conditionalities and advice they have dispensed to developing countries in recent decades.
July 2019 saw the 75th anniversary of the historic conference of 44 countries held at the Bretton Woods (BW) resort in New Hampshire during July 1-22, 1944.
At BW, John Maynard Keynes, representing the UK, and Harry Dexter White, for the USA, both sought a new international monetary system following the Great Depression, which many attributed to the functioning of the gold standard before World War II.
On 17 June, a Facebook white paper
proposed a new global digital currency it plans to launch in the first half of 2020. The Libra will be managed by a ‘not for profit’ Swiss-based Facebook-led consortium of ‘for profit corporations’, with Uber, eBay, Lyft, Mastercard and PayPal among its founding members.
Over the last four decades, growing concentration of market power in the hands of oligopolies, if not monopolies, has been greatly enabled by ostensibly neo-liberal reforms, worsening wealth concentration and gross inequalities
in the world.
The World Bank has successfully promoted its ‘Maximizing Finance for Development
’ (MFD) strategy by embracing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, internationally endorsed in September 2015.
It has also secured support from the G20 of twenty biggest economies, and effectively pre-empted alternative approaches at the third UN Financing for Development summit in Addis Ababa in mid-2015.
The World Bank’s Enabling the Business of Agriculture
(EBA) project, launched in 2013, has sought agricultural reforms favouring the corporate sector. EBA was initially established to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition
, initiated by the G8 to promote private agricultural development in Africa.
The World Bank has successfully built a coalition to effectively advance its ‘Maximizing Finance for Development’ (MFD) agenda. The October 2018 G20 Eminent Persons Group’s (EPG) report
includes proposals to better coordinate various international financial institutions (IFIs) in promoting financialization.
The World Bank has successfully legitimized the notion that private finance is the solution to pressing development and welfare concerns, including achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through Agenda 2030.
A recent McKinsey report
estimates that the world needs to invest about US$3.3 trillion, or 3.8 per cent of world output yearly, in economic infrastructure, with about three-fifths in emerging market and other developing economies, to maintain current growth.