Inter Press ServiceAnis Chowdhury – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 18 Jan 2018 16:29:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.5 PPPs Likely to Undermine Public Health Commitmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/ppps-likely-undermine-public-health-commitments/#respond Wed, 17 Jan 2018 08:50:30 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153905 The United Nations Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being touted in financial circles as offering huge investment opportunities requiring trillions of dollars. In 67 low- and middle-income countries, achieving SDG 3 — healthy lives and well-being for all, at all ages — is estimated to require new investments increasing over time, […]

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Capacity-building support for developing countries to safeguard the public interest in terms of public health and especially, to ensure that no one is left behind, is essential. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR , Jan 17 2018 (IPS)

The United Nations Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is being touted in financial circles as offering huge investment opportunities requiring trillions of dollars. In 67 low- and middle-income countries, achieving SDG 3 — healthy lives and well-being for all, at all ages — is estimated to require new investments increasing over time, from an initial $134 billion annually to $371 billion yearly by 2030, according to recent estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in The Lancet.

Selling PPPs
Deprived of fiscal and aid resources, none of these governments can finance such investments alone. The United Nations Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing estimated in 2014 that annual global savings (both public and private sources) were around US$22 trillion, while global financial assets were around US$218 trillion.

The third International Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa in mid-2015 recommended ‘blended finance’ as well as other public private partnerships (PPPs) to pool public and private resources and expertise to achieve the SDGs. Development finance institutions (DFIs), particularly the World Bank, are the main cheerleaders for these magic bullets.

Sensing the new opportunity for mega profits, the private sector has embraced the SDGs. The World Economic Forum now actively promotes PPPs with DEVEX, a private-sector driven network of development experts. A recent DEVEX opinion claims that PPPs can unlock billions for health financing. It invokes some philanthropy driven global partnership success stories — such as the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiatives (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria — to claim that national level PPPs will have similar results.

A managed equipment services (MES) arrangement with GE Healthcare in Kenya is also cited as a success story, ignoring criticisms. For example, Dr. Elly Nyaim, head of the Kenya Medical Association, has pointed out that MES has not addressed basic problems of Kenya’s health system, such as inappropriate training and non-payment of salaries to frontline health workers, encouraging emigration of well-trained health professionals to developed countries, further worsening Kenya’s already difficult health dilemmas.

It should be obvious to all that private sector participation in the development process is hardly novel, having long contributed to investments, growth and innovation. Not-for-profit civil society organisations (CSOs), especially faith-based ones, have also been significant for decades in education and health. Thus, in many developing countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia, health and education outcomes are much better than what public expenditure alone could fund.

False claims
However, PPPs have a long and chequered history, especially in terms of ensuring access and equity, typically undermining the SDG’s overarching principle of “leaving no one behind”, including the SDG and WHO promise of universal health care. Also, partnerships with for-profit private entities have rarely yielded better fiscal outcomes, both in terms of finance and value for money (VfM).

Misleading claims regarding benefits and costs have been invoked to justify PPPs. Most claimed benefits of health PPPs do not stand up to critical scrutiny. As a policy tool, they are a typically inferior option to respond to infrastructure shortfalls in the face of budgetary constraints by moving expenditures off-budget and transferring costs to future governments as well as consumers and taxpayers.

Typically driven by political choices rather than real economic considerations, PPP incurred debt and risk are generally higher than for government borrowing and procurement. PPPs also appear to have limited innovation and raised transactions costs. PPP hospital building quality is not necessarily better, while facilities management services have generally reduced VfM compared to non-PPP hospitals. Underfunding and higher PPP costs lead to cuts in service provision to reduce deficits, harming public health.

Healthcare PPPs in low- and middle-income countries have raised concerns about: competition with other health programmes for funding, causing inefficiencies and wasting resources; discrepancies in costs and benefits between partners typically favouring the private sector; incompatibility with national health strategies; poor government negotiating positions vis-à-vis powerful pharmaceutical and other healthcare service companies from donor countries.

Perverted priorities

Rich and powerful private partners often reshape governmental and state-owned enterprise priorities and strategies, and redirect national health policies to better serve commercial interests and considerations. For example, relying on antiretroviral drugs from PPPs has resulted in conflicts with national authorities, generic suppliers and consumer interests, which have undermined health progress. Donor-funded PPPs are typically unsustainable, eventually harming national health strategies, policies, capacities and capabilities.

PPPs may divert domestic resources from national priorities, and thus undermine public health due to financial constraints they cause. Such redirection of investment exacerbates health disparities, adversely affecting vulnerable groups. Health workers often prefer to work for better funded foreign programmes, undermining the public sector.

PPPs can thus lead governments to abdicate their responsibilities for promoting and protecting citizens’ health. Partnership arrangements with the private sector are not subject to public oversight. Therefore, selecting private partners, setting targets and formulating operating guidelines are not transparent, they only aid in creating more scope for corruption.

PPPs are certainly not magic bullets to achieve the SDGs. While PPPs can mobilize private finance, this can also be achieved at lower cost through government borrowing. Instead of uncritically promoting blended finance and PPPs, the international community should provide capacity building support to developing countries to safeguard the public interest, especially equity, access and public health, to ensure that no one is left behind.

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Trade Multilateralism Set Back yet Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/trade-multilateralism-set-back-yet/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trade-multilateralism-set-back-yet http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/01/trade-multilateralism-set-back-yet/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 07:32:06 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153713 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia); he held senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The International Trade Organziation (ITO) sought to make finance the servant, not the master of human desires’ the world over. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 2018 (IPS)

As feared, the Eleventh Ministerial Conference (MC11) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 10-13 December 2017, ended in failure. It failed to even produce the customary ministerial declaration reiterating the centrality of the global trading system and the importance of trade as a driver of development.

Driven by President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ strategy and his preference for bilateral trade deals, instead of multilateral or even plurilateral agreements, United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer was key to the outcome. The USTR also refused to engage in previously promised negotiations on a permanent solution to the use of food reserves by India and other countries. Most importantly, the failure of MC11 undermines prospects for orderly trade expansion to support robust global economic recovery.

India’s National Food Security Act, the most ambitious food security initiative in the world by far, buys food grains from small-scale farmers for distribution to some 840 million poor, two-thirds of its people. Since 2013, US and other OECD countries, all subsidizing their own farmers, have frustrated WTO acceptance of Indian efforts.

In fact, US rejection of the WTO Doha Round began much earlier. The Obama administration undermined the 2015 Nairobi WTO ministerial. Then USTR Michael Froman derailed the Doha Round of trade negotiations by demanding inclusion of previously rejected agenda items which WTO members could not agree to after 14 years of negotiation. He claimed that the then recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was the new gold standard for free trade agreements (FTAs), and insisted on including corporate-promoted issues, such as broadened intellectual property rights and investor-state dispute settlement arrangements.

Following the 1999 Seattle WTO ministerial failure, Doha Round negotiations began in late 2001 after 9/11, with the OECD promising to rectify the previous Uruguay Round outcomes inimical to developing country interests. Ending the Doha Round inconclusively will enable WTO members to renege on promised concessions to keep all countries at the negotiating table. Not surprisingly, most developing countries want the Doha Round to continue, hoping to finally realize the 2001 post-9/11 promises to rectify Marrakech outcomes which have undermined food security and development prospects.

ITO stillbirth due to US corporate lobby
The US had previously killed the attempt to create a pro-growth and development International Trade Organization (ITO) after the Second World War to complement the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), better known as the World Bank. These two international financial institutions were created at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference with broad supervisory and regulatory powers to provide short- and long- term finance to stabilize the international order.

A third international multilateral economic organization was deemed necessary for the regulation of trade, including areas such as tariff reduction, business cartels, commodity agreements, economic development and foreign direct investment. The idea of such an international trade organization was first mooted in the US Congress in 1916 by Representative Cordell Hull, later Roosevelt’s first Secretary of State in 1933.

In 1946, the US proposed to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) to convene a conference to draft a charter for an ITO. The US State Department prepared a draft charter for the UN Conference on Trade and Employment. US officials then made significant concessions to accommodate ‘underdeveloped’ countries. Underdeveloped countries then were generally unwilling to guarantee the security of foreign investments, widely seen as a means for foreign exploitation.

The Havana Charter’s rule that the foreign investments could not be expropriated or nationalized except with “just”, “reasonable”, or “appropriate” conditions was seen by US business as weakening the protection that US investments previously enjoyed. US concessions on the use of quantitative restrictions for economic development were also seen as undermining free trade. Thus, the Havana Charter lost crucial support from US business.

The ITO Havana Charter’s final text was signed by 53 countries, including the US, on 24 March 1948. Sceptical observers viewed such efforts as part of a grand strategy to extend US hegemony, even if at the expense of its closest ally, Great Britain.

However, by 1949, US political elites and corporations believed that American interests and investment interests were not well protected by the Havana Charter. What had begun as an American project was out of control. Thus, the Republican-dominated Congress opposed ratification. What seemed a certainty only months earlier, ended in failure by December 1950.

Thus, the ITO did not survive American trade politics despite initial US sponsorship and signing the Draft Charter in Havana. A coalition of protectionist and ‘perfectionist’ critics of the Charter convinced President Truman to withdraw the draft treaty from Congress, reneging on his administration’s undertaking to support the ITO.

Different trade order
As envisioned, the ITO was quite different from the WTO, created almost half a century later. The ITO Charter was committed to full employment and free market cornerstones for multilateralism, and ‘sought to make finance the servant, not the master of human desires’ internationally. It was much more than a defence of investor rights.

Clearly, this strong commitment to achieving full employment was the glue for the post-war global consensus underlying the new post-colonial economic multilateralism. This global new deal became the basis for the post-war Keynesian Golden Age quarter century when inequality declined among nations as well as within many economies.

Negotiators at the Conference recognized the need for domestic and international measures, including international policy coordination, for “attainment of higher living standards, full employment and conditions of economic and social progress development”, as envisaged by Article 55 of the UN Charter. Security of employment would have become a critical international benchmark for international trade promotion. Thus, the ITO’s collapse represented a significant setback to prioritizing full employment, accelerating the transition to the imperial ‘free trade’ canon.

Richard Toye, a leading economic historian, has suggested a different order had the ITO survived: “The ITO might have been a more attractive organization for underdeveloped countries to join, which might, in turn, have promoted less autarchic/anarchic trade policies among them with additional growth benefits. This development might, in its turn, have given a further boost to the impressive post-Second World War growth in world trade … At the same time, the Havana charter’s exceptions to free-trade rules, especially those made in the interests of the economic development of poorer countries, might have helped to reduce global inequalities.” Thus, the ITO could have enabled a more inclusive, productive, orderly and just world economy.

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Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/arming-poor-countries-enriches-rich-countries/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 09:35:42 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153534 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales; held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The iconic statue of a knotted gun barrel outside U.N. headquarters. Credit:Tressia Boukhors/IPS.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR , Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

Although the Cold War came to an end over a quarter century ago, international arms sales only declined temporarily at the end of the last century. Instead, the United States under President Trump is extending its arms superiority over the rest of the world.

The five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and Algeria. Indian arms imports increased by 43 per cent. Its imports during 2012–2016 were far greater than those of its regional rivals, China and Pakistan, as Pakistan’s arms imports declined by 28 per cent compared to 2007–2011. UAE imports increased by 63 per cent while Saudi Arabia’s rose a staggering 212 per cent
Meanwhile, some fast-growing developing countries are now arming themselves much faster than their growth rate. Such expensive arms imports mean less for development and the people, especially the poor and destitute who constitute several hundred million in India alone.

The end of the Cold War in the early 1990s had raised expectations of a ‘peace dividend’. Many hoped and expected the arms race to decelerate, if not cease; the resources thus saved were expected to be redeployed for development and to improve the lives of ordinary people.

But the arms trade has continued to grow in the new millennium, after falling briefly from the mid-1990s. And without the political competition of the Cold War, official development assistance (ODA) to developing countries fell in the 1990s. Such ODA or foreign aid only rose again after 9/11, the brutal terroristic attack on US symbols of global power, only to fall again after the global financial crisis.

 

Arms sales

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) latest report on the world’s arms trade offers some revealing new data. The volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2012–2016 was 8.4 per cent more than in 2007–2011, the highest for any five-year period since 1990.

As Figure 1 shows, international arms exports rose steeply until the early 1980s, after a brief decline during 1955–1960. It fell once again from the mid-1980s as Mikhail Gorbachev sought to end the Cold War which had diverted resources to military build-ups in developing countries.

Foreign sales of military arms and equipment across the world totalled $374.8 billion in 2016, the first year of growth (by 1.9 per cent), after five years of decline. American companies had a $217.2 billion lion’s share of foreign arms sales. Seven out of ten of the world’s top arms companies were American, earning $152.1 billion, with Lockheed Martin leading with $40.8 billion.

 

Arms Sales: Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countries - Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017) Note: The bars show annual totals while the line shows the five-year moving average, with each data point representing an average for the five-year period ending that year. The SIPRI trend-indicator value (TIV) measures the volume of international transfers of major weapons.

Figure 1. International transfers of major weapons, 1950–2016. Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017) Note: The bars show annual totals while the line shows the five-year moving average, with each data point representing an average for the five-year period ending that year. The SIPRI trend-indicator value (TIV) measures the volume of international transfers of major weapons.

 

Arms exporters

The five biggest exporters during 2012–2016 were the United States, Russia, China, France and Germany (Figure 2).

 

 

Arms Sales: Arming Poor Countries Enriches Rich Countries - Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017)

Source: SIPRI Arms Transfer Database (20 Feb. 2017)

 

US exports of major weapons increased by 21 per cent during 2012–2016 compared to 2007–2011. The major destination was the Middle East which accounted for 47 per cent. The USA exported major weapons to at least 100 states during 2012–2016, significantly more than any other supplying country.

Russian major weapons exports increased by only 4.7 per cent. It sold weapons to only 50 states, with exports to India alone accounting for 38 per cent. Meanwhile, China’s exports increased by 74 per cent, as its share of global arms exports rose from 3.8 to 6.2 per cent. China’s arms exports to Africa grew most, by 122 per cent, to account for 22 per cent of its total arms exports.

 

Arms importers

The five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China and Algeria. Indian arms imports increased by 43 per cent. Its imports during 2012–2016 were far greater than those of its regional rivals, China and Pakistan, as Pakistan’s arms imports declined by 28 per cent compared to 2007–2011. UAE imports increased by 63 per cent while Saudi Arabia’s rose a staggering 212 per cent! Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer of US weapons followed by South Korea.

India, the world’s largest arms importer, has more of the world’s abject poor (280 million) than any other country, accounting for a third of the world’s poor living below the international poverty line of US$1.90 a day. Using a US$3.10 a day poverty line, more appropriate for a middle-income country, the number of poor in India goes up dramatically to 732 million.

A study in 2014, led by the former chairman of the Indian Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, C Rangarajan, estimated that 363 million, or 29.5 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people, lived in poverty in 2011–2012, i.e., on less than Rs 32 daily in rural areas, and below Rs 47 a day in urban areas.

Asia and Oceania was the main importing region in 2012–2016, accounting for 43 per cent of global imports, followed by the Middle East, with 29 per cent, and African states accounting for 8.1 per cent. Between the two five year periods, arms imports in Asia and Oceania increased by 7.7 per cent and in the Middle East by 86 per cent. Arms imports by European states fell by 36 per cent while African arms imports declined by 6.6 per cent.

Tensions in Southeast Asia have driven up demand for weapons. Viet Nam’s arms imports increased by 202 per cent, pushing it to become the 10th largest arms importer in 2012–2016 from being 29th in 2007–2011. This was the fastest increase among the top ten importers. Philippines’ arms imports increased by 426 per cent while Indonesia’s grew by 70 per cent.

 

Fuelling conflicts

Six rebel groups are among the 165 identified recipients of major weapons in 2012–2016. Even though deliveries to the six accounted for no more than 0.02 per cent of major arms transfers, SIPRI argues the sales fuel conflicts.

Conflict regions alone accounted for 48 per cent of total arms imports to sub-Saharan Africa. According to SIPRI, governments fighting rebel groups used major arms against anti-government rebels.

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Coping with Foreign Direct Investmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coping-foreign-direct-investment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coping-foreign-direct-investment http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/coping-foreign-direct-investment/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:26:04 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153137 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia). He held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2016 in Bangkok and New York.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) can make important contributions to sustainable development, particularly when projects are aligned with national and regional sustainable development strategies. Credit: Ed McKenna/ IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is increasingly touted as the elixir for economic growth. While not against FDI, the mid-2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) for financing development also cautioned that it “is concentrated in a few sectors in many developing countries and often bypasses countries most in need, and international capital flows are often short-term oriented”.

FDI flows
UNCTAD’s 2017 World Investment Report (WIR) shows that FDI flows have remained the largest and has provided less volatile of all external financial flows to developing economies, despite declining by 14% in 2016. FDI flows to the least developed countries and ‘structurally weak’ economies remain low and volatile.

FDI inflows add to funds for investment, while providing foreign exchange for importing machinery and other needed inputs. FDI can enhance growth and structural transformation through various channels, notably via technological spill-overs, linkages and competition. Transnational corporations (TNCs) may also provide access to export markets and specialized expertise.

However, none of these beneficial growth-enhancing effects can be taken for granted as much depends on type of FDI. For instance, mergers and acquisitions (M&As) do not add new capacities or capabilities while typically concentrating market power, whereas green-field investments tend to be more beneficial. FDI in capital-intensive mining has limited linkage or employment effects.

Technological capacities and capabilities
Technological spill-overs occur when host country firms learn superior technology or management practices from TNCs. But intellectual property rights and other restrictions may effectively impede technology transfer.

Or the quality of human resources in the host country may be too poor to effectively use, let alone transfer technology introduced by foreign firms. Learning effects can be constrained by limited linkages or interactions between local suppliers and foreign affiliates.

Linkages between TNCs and local firms are also more likely in countries with strict local content requirements. But purely export oriented TNCs, especially in export processing zones (EPZs), are likely to have fewer and weaker linkages with local industry.

Foreign entry may reduce firm concentration in a national market, thereby increasing competition, which may force local firms to reduce organizational inefficiencies to stay competitive. But if host country firms are not yet internationally competitive, FDI may decimate local firms, giving market power and lucrative rents to foreign firms.

Contrasting experiences
The South Korean government has long been cautious towards FDI. The share of FDI in gross capital formation was less than 2% during 1965-1984. The government did not depend on FDI for technology transfer, and preferred to ‘purchase and unbundle’ technology, encouraging ‘reverse engineering’. It favoured strict local content requirements, licensing, technical cooperation and joint ventures over wholly-owned FDI.

In contrast, post-colonial Malaysia has never been hostile to any kind of FDI. After FDI-led import-substituting industrialization petered out by the mid-1960s, export-orientation from the early 1970s generated hundreds of thousands of jobs for women. Electronics in Malaysia has been more than 80% FDI since the 1970s, with little scope for knowledge spill-overs and interactions with local firms. Although lacking many mature industries, Malaysia has been experiencing premature deindustrialization since the 1997-1998 Asian financial crises.

China and India
From the 1980s, China has been pro-active in encouraging both import-substituting and export-oriented FDI. However, it soon imposed strict requirements regarding local content, foreign exchange earnings, technology transfer as well as research and development, besides favouring joint ventures and cooperatives.

Solely foreign-owned enterprises were not permitted unless they brought advanced technology or exported most of their output. China only relaxed these restrictions in 2001 to comply with WTO entrance requirements. Nevertheless, it still prefers TNCs that bring advanced technology and boost exports, and green-field FDI over M&As.

Thus, more than 80% of FDI in China involves green-field investments, mostly in manufacturing, constituting 70% of total FDI in 2001. China has strictly controlled FDI inflows into services, only allowing FDI in real estate recently.

Although long cautious of FDI, India has recently changed its policies, seeking FDI to boost Indian manufacturing and create jobs. Thus, the current government has promised to “put more and more FDI proposals on automatic route instead of government route”.

Despite sharp rising FDI inflows, the share of FDI in manufacturing declined from 48% to 29% between October 2014 and September 2016, with few green-field investments. Newly incorporated companies’ share of inflows was 2.7% overall, and 1.6% for manufacturing, with the bulk of FDI going to M&As.

Policy lessons
FDI policies need to be well complemented by effective industrial policies including efforts to enhance human resource development and technological capabilities through public investments in education, training and R&D.

Thus, South Korea industrialized rapidly without much FDI thanks to its well-educated workforce and efforts to enhance technological capabilities from 1966. Korean manufacturing developed with protection and other official support (e.g., subsidized credit from state-owned banks and government-guaranteed private firm borrowings from abroad) subject to strict performance criteria (e.g., export targets).

Indeed, FDI can make important contributions “to sustainable development, particularly when projects are aligned with national and regional sustainable development strategies. Government policies can strengthen positive spillovers …, such as know-how and technology, including through establishing linkages with domestic suppliers, as well as encouraging the integration of local enterprises… into regional and global value chains”.

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Finance Following Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/finance-following-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finance-following-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/finance-following-growth/#respond Tue, 14 Nov 2017 14:53:53 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153017 Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and the University of New South Wales (Australia). He held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2016 in Bangkok and New York.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Recent research suggests that eyond a certain point, the benefits of financial development diminish, with further development possibly even hurting growth. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 14 2017 (IPS)

Economists of all persuasions recognize the critical role of finance in economic growth. The financial sector’s stability and depth are widely considered important in this connection.

Thus, many believe that the lack of a well-developed financial sector constrains growth in developing countries. Neoliberals generally attribute this to excessive regulation, especially the role of state-owned financial institutions, interest rate limits and restrictions on short-term cross-border capital flows.

It is often assumed that banks and financial markets allocate capital to the most productive endeavours, and that the financial infrastructure for credit reduces ‘information inefficiencies’, such as ‘moral hazard’ and ‘adverse selection’. Another presumption is that greater financial development will ensure sufficient finance for otherwise excluded sectors, thus raising growth potential.

Financial deregulation
Following the sovereign debt crises of the early 1980s precipitated by the sudden hikes in US Federal Reserve interest rates, neoliberal economists have advocated financial sector deregulation. It was a standard part of the Washington Consensus also including privatization and economic liberalization more broadly.

This agenda was typically imposed as part of structural adjustment programmes required by the Bretton Woods institutions (BWIs), led by the World Bank. However, many developing country and transition economy governments adopted such policies even if not required to do so, following the neo-liberal counter-revolution against Keynesian and development economics.

Financial deregulation, privatization and liberalization also gained momentum in the developed world, especially in the UK and the USA following the elections of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in 1979 and 1980 respectively. In the US, such reforms culminated in the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 when President Clinton declared “the Glass-Steagall law is no longer appropriate”.

Initial results of financial liberalization generally seemed encouraging. Deregulating countries experienced rapid financial expansion and innovation. Finally, it seemed that the long elusive elixir of growth had been found. Finance had a free hand, expanding much faster than the real economy.

But soon, with inadequate prudential regulation and supervision, booms became bubbles as excesses threatened financial and economic stability, besides undermining the real economy. Economies became increasingly prone to currency, financial and banking crises such as the 1994 Mexican peso crisis, 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, 1998 Russian financial crisis and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis.

Tipping point?
Recent research suggests that beyond a certain point, the benefits of financial development diminish, with further development possibly even hurting growth. In other words, the finance-growth relationship is not linear; it may be positive to a point, before turning negative.

Additional finance beyond this tipping point thus becomes increasingly counterproductive. By exacerbating macro-financial fragility, credit growth thus leads to bigger booms, bubbles and busts, ultimately leaving countries worse off. Interestingly, research done at the BWIs also finds that rapid credit growth is commonly associated with banking crises.

The IMF found that three quarters of credit booms in emerging markets end in banking crises. The OECD found that deregulating finance over the past three decades has stunted, not boosted, economic growth. It concluded that further credit expansion beyond exceeding three-fifths of GDP not only dents long-term growth, but also worsens economic inequality.

A commonly used measure of financial development – average private credit to GDP – increased steadily from about 1960. It has grown more rapidly since around 1990 – exceeding 100% in developed economies and 70% in emerging market developing economies (EMDEs).

The OECD report also found that over the past half century, credit from banks and other institutions to households and businesses has grown three times faster than economic activity. But GDP growth per capita changed little before and after 1990, with a strong negative relationship between finance and growth emerging after 1990, especially in the Eurozone.

EMDEs with lower credit-to-GDP ratios benefited from more credit growth, experiencing a positive finance-growth relationship until about 1990. But with higher credit-to-GDP ratios, the finance-growth relationship turned negative in developed economies well before 1990. Hence, thresholds for credit-to-GDP ratios are likely to be higher for EMDEs than for developed economies.

Finance following growth?
The new research also points to the possibility of reverse causality – of financial development necessitated by growth. This seems to support Joan Robinson’s suggestion that “where enterprise leads, finance follows”. More money and credit become available as demand for both increases with economic growth.

After all, money and credit are supposed to lubricate the real economy. EMDEs start from relatively low incomes and therefore have greater growth potential. As they realize that potential, demand for finance leads to greater financial development.

In the case of developed economies, especially the Eurozone, finance continued to grow even as growth slowed. Apparently, savings adjusted slowly to sluggish income growth, resulting in a rising wealth-to-GDP ratio.

This, in turn, creates demand for finance as households seek to ‘park’ their savings, borrow for consumption and buy new consumer durables. Thus, the financial system grows even as economic growth continues to decline. This may result in rising household indebtedness, or increasing debt-to-income ratios, ending in debt defaults.

Policy lessons
Besides being cognizant of “too much finance” beyond a tipping point, policymakers need to be aware that causality may run in both directions. Therefore, financial development must accompany productivity enhancement.

Financial liberalization, or other financial development policies alone cannot spur productivity growth. Without entrepreneurship, finance is likely to prove to be an illusory source of growth.

This is important as short-term capital inflows cannot enhance productive long-term investments. Short-term capital flows are easily reversible, and can suddenly leave, plunging countries into financial crisis.

If the financial sector continues to grow after growth potential falls, it greatly increases the relative size and role of finance, thus accelerating the likelihood of financial instability. Countries need strong macro-prudential regulations to contain such vulnerabilities.

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To Eliminate Poverty, Better Understanding Neededhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/eliminate-poverty-better-understanding-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eliminate-poverty-better-understanding-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/eliminate-poverty-better-understanding-needed/#comments Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:05:31 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152572 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The latest Bank data on global poverty suggests that 767 million people, or 10.7% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 2017 (IPS)

As the United Nations’ Second Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2008-2017) comes to an end, more self-congratulation is likely. Claims of victory in the war against poverty will be backed by recently released poverty estimates from the World Bank, entrusted by the UN system to monitor poverty.

Mismeasuring poverty
The latest Bank data on global poverty suggests that 767 million people, or 10.7% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty, compared to some 42% of the world’s population in 1981. Earlier figures suggested that most progress was due to East Asia, especially China.

The Bank’s international poverty line was revised from a dollar a day in 1985 to $1.08 in 1993, $1.25 in 2005, and $1.90 in 2011. Poverty estimates for 2011 are available using both $1.90 and $1.25 per day poverty lines. Global poverty has fallen from 14.5% of the world’s population (or 1,011 million people) using the $1.25 poverty line or 14.2% (or 987 million) with the new $1.90 line! Global poverty has thus declined more using the new yardstick, confounding those who expected a statistical explosion in the number of poor with the 52% increase during 2005-2011!

Echoing an earlier complaint, economics Nobel Laureate Angus Deaton believes that the World Bank has an “institutional bias towards finding more poverty rather than less” to ‘keep itself in business’ leading the fight against global poverty. No wonder the World Bank faces a serious credibility problem when it comes to its poverty role.

The World Bank’s poverty estimation methodology is problematic, as admitted by Martin Ravallion who pioneered its dollar-a-day measure. Doubts remain, even after several adjustments. The Bank’s poverty line appears arbitrary as it has not been consistently anchored to a broadly accepted specification of basic human needs.

Asian progress exaggerated
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) argued that the World Bank’s $1.25 yardstick was not representative of Asia, the continent that has supposedly contributed most to the decline in global poverty according to the Bank. There were only two Asian countries, compared to 13 African countries, in the sample with which the World Bank set its $1.25 benchmark.

The ADB deems other factors more relevant, such as living costs for Asia’s poor, food costs rising faster than the general price level, and vulnerability to natural disasters, climate change, economic crises and other shocks. Its estimated extreme poverty rate for Asia in 2010 thus increased by 28.8 percentage points to 49.5% while the estimated number of poor jumped by 1.02 billion to 1.75 billion people!

It is now widely agreed that poverty is multidimensional while the Bank still uses ‘money-metric’ measures. The UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report (HDR) publishes its Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) considering multiple deprivations across three dimensions – health (nutrition, child mortality), education (years of schooling, school enrolment) and living standards (cooking fuel, toilet, water supply, electricity, flooring, assets).

About 1.5 billion people in the 102 developing countries currently covered experience such acute deprivations. Close to 900 million people are vulnerable to falling into poverty following setbacks due to financial crisis, natural disaster and other factors.

Globalization reduced poverty?

With little convincing evidence, The Economist (30 March 2017) attributed the world’s “great progress in eradicating extreme poverty” to globalization.

In the Globalization and Poverty book, 15 economists considered whether globalization has helped spread wealth, as often claimed. They conclude that the poor benefit from globalization when appropriate complementary policies, such as investments in human resources, infrastructure, credit promotion, technical assistance and supportive institutions, are in place.

Most supposed evidence is indirect, suggesting poverty reduction is mainly due to growth attributed to globalization. But recent globalization has also seen sharply increased inequality and volatility, including more frequent and deeper financial crises.

Other policies associated with globalization and liberalization, such as privatization, financial sector deregulation and pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies, have also harmed the poor. The efficacy of programmes, such as microfinance and governance reforms, in significantly reducing poverty is now very much in doubt.

Rethinking poverty
The United Nations’ Report on the World Social Situation 2010 – Rethinking Poverty, and our accompanying volume, Poor Poverty, affirmed the urgent need to abandon the market fundamentalist thinking, policies and practices of recent decades in favour of more sustainable development- and equity-oriented policies appropriate to national conditions and circumstances. Such new thinking on poverty and its eradication can be summarized as follows:

• Dominant mainstream perspectives have led to poor, ineffectual policy prescriptions.
• Poverty reduction is helped by sustained growth of output and decent jobs.
• Growth helps raise incomes and fiscal resources for social spending.
• Growth needs to be more stable, with consistently counter-cyclical macroeconomic policies and better capacity to deal with exogenous shocks.
• Progressive structural change and inequality reduction are crucial for development.
• Social provisioning accelerates development and poverty reduction.
• Social protection can better mitigate negative shocks, prevent people becoming much poorer, and help generate economic activities and livelihoods.
• A basic social protection floor is affordable in most countries, although poorer countries will progress faster with donor support.

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Hunger in Africa, Land of Plentyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hunger-africa-land-plenty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hunger-africa-land-plenty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/hunger-africa-land-plenty/#comments Sat, 14 Oct 2017 23:45:22 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152493 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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A tea farmer in Nyeri County, central Kenya contemplates what to do after his crop was damaged by severe weather patterns. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 14 2017 (IPS)

Globally, 108 million people faced food crises in 2016, compared to about 80 million in 2015 – an increase of 35%, according to the 2017 Global Report on Food Crises. Another 123 million people were ‘stressed’, contributing to around 230 million such food insecure people in 2016, of whom 72% were in Africa.

The highest hunger levels are in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) according to the Global Hunger Index 2016. The number of ‘undernourished’ or hungry people in Africa increased from about 182 million in the early 1990s to around 233 million in 2016 according to the FAO, while the global number declined from about a billion to approximately 795 million.

This is a cruel irony as many countries in Africa have the highest proportion of potential arable land. According to a 2012 FAO report, for African sub-regions except North Africa, between 21% and 37% of their land area face few climate, soil or terrain constraints to rain-fed crop production.

Why hunger?
Observers typically blame higher population growth, natural calamities and conflicts for hunger on the continent. And since Africa was transformed from a net food exporter into a net food importer in the 1980s despite its vast agricultural potential, international food price hikes have also contributed to African hunger.

The international sovereign debt crises of the 1980s forced many African countries to the stabilization and structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) of the Bretton Woods institutions. Between 1980 and 2007, Africa’s total net food imports grew at an average of 3.4% per year in real terms. Imports of basic foodstuffs, especially cereals, have risen sharply.

One casualty of SAPs was public investment. African countries were told that they need not invest in agriculture as imports would be cheaper. . Tragically, while Africa deindustrialized thanks to the SAPs, food security also suffered.

In 1980, Africa’s agricultural investments were comparable to those in Latin America and Caribbean (LAC). But while LAC agricultural investment increased 2.6 fold between 1980 and 2007, it increased by much less in Africa. Meanwhile, agricultural investments in Asia went from three to eight times more than in Africa as African government investments in agricultural research remained paltry.

Thus, African agricultural productivity has not only suffered, but also African agriculture remains less resilient to climate change and extreme weather conditions. Africa is now comparable to Haiti where food agriculture was destroyed by subsidized food imports from the US and Europe, as admitted by President Clinton after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Lost decades
SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow cuts in public investment, thus paying for imports. But the ostensibly short-term pain of adjustment did not bring the anticipated long-term gains of growth and prosperity. Now, it is admitted that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, causing the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’ for Africa.

Thanks to such programmes, even in different guises such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century. And despite the minerals-led growth boom for a dozen years (2002-2014) during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals, nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

The World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa shows that the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

Land grabs
Despite its potential, vast tracts of arable land remain idle, due to decades of official neglect of agriculture. More recently, international financial institutions and many donors have been advocating large-scale foreign investment. A World Bank report notes the growing demand for farmland, especially following the 2007-2008 food price hikes. Approximately 56 million hectares worth of large-scale farmland deals were announced in 2009, compared to less than four million hectares yearly before 2008. More than 70% of these deals involved Africa.

In most such deals, local community concerns are often ignored to benefit big investors and their allies in government. For example, Feronia Inc – a company based in Canada and owned by the development finance institutions of various European governments – controls 120,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Advocates of large-scale land acquisitions claim that such deals have positive impacts, e.g., generating jobs locally and improving access to infrastructure. However, loss of community access to land and other natural resources, increased conflicts over livelihoods and greater inequality are among some common adverse consequences.

Most such deals involve land already cleared, with varied, but nonetheless considerable socioeconomic and environmental implications. Local agrarian populations have often been dispossessed with little consultation or adequate compensation, as in Tanzania, when Swedish-based Agro EcoEnergy acquired 20,000 hectares for a sugarcane plantation and ethanol production.

Land grabbing by foreign companies for commercial farming in Africa is threatening smallholder agricultural productivity, vital for reducing poverty and hunger on the continent. In the process, they have been marginalizing local communities, particularly ‘indigenous’ populations, and compromising food security.

This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of this year’s World Food Day on October 16.

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World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition-2/#comments Tue, 10 Oct 2017 18:29:38 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152413 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Instead of encouraging tax competition, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 2017 (IPS)

One of the 11 areas that the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) report includes in ranking a country’s business environment is paying taxes. The background study for DB 2017, Paying Taxes 2016 claims that its emphasis is “on efficient tax compliance and straightforward tax regimes”.

Its ostensible aim is to aid developing countries in enhancing the administrative capacities of tax authorities as well as reducing informal economic activities and corruption, while promoting growth and investment. All well and good, until we get into the details.

Tax less
First, the Report advocates not only administrative efficiency, but also lower tax rates. Any country that reduces tax rates, or raises the threshold for taxable income, or provides exemptions, gets approval.

Second, it exaggerates the tax burden by including, for example, employees’ health insurance and pensions and charges for public services like waste collection and infrastructure or environmental levies that the businesses must pay. The IMF’s Government Financial Statistics Manual correctly treats these separately from general tax revenues.

Third, by favourably viewing countries that lower corporate tax rates (or increase threshold and exemptions) and negatively considering those that introduce new taxes, DB is essentially encouraging tax competition among developing countries.

Thus, the Bank is ignoring research at the OECD and IMF which has not found any convincing evidence that lower corporate tax rates or other fiscal concessions have any positive impact on foreign direct investment.

Instead, they found net adverse impacts of tax concessions and fiscal incentives on government revenues. According to the research, factors such as the availability and quality of infrastructure and human resources were more important for investment decisions than taxes.

Moreover, the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys do not find paying taxes to be high on the list of factors that enterprise owners perceive as important barriers to investment. For example, the Enterprise Survey for the Middle East and North Africa found political instability, corruption, unreliable electricity supply, and inadequate access to finance to be important considerations; paying taxes or tax rates were not.

Yet, the World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. Not surprisingly, thanks to its still considerable influence, tax revenues in developing countries are not rising enough, or worse, continue to fall. According to some estimates, between 1990 and 2001, reduction in corporate taxes lowered countries’ tax revenue by nearly 20%.

Instead of encouraging tax competition, therefore, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, “developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid”.

Global Financial Integrity has estimated that illicit financial flows of potentially taxable resources out of developing countries was US$7.85 trillion during 2004-2013 and US$1.1 trillion in 2013 alone!

Conflicts of interest
But the Bank’s Paying Taxes and DB reports do little to strengthen developing countries’ tax revenues. This should come as no surprise as its partner for the former study is Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the ‘Big Four’ leading international accounting and consultancy firms. PwC competes with KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte for the lucrative business of helping clients minimize their tax liabilities. PwC assisted its clients in obtaining at least 548 tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010, enabling them to avoid corporate income tax elsewhere.

How are developing countries expected to finance their infrastructure investment needs, increase social protection coverage, or repair their damaged environments? Instead of helping, the Bank’s most influential report urges them to cut corporate tax rates and social contributions to improve their DB ranking, contrary to what then Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu observed: “Raising [tax] allows developing countries to invest in education, health and infrastructure, and, hence, in promoting growth.”

How are they supposed to achieve the internationally agreed Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of dwindling foreign aid. After all, only a few donor countries have fulfilled their aid commitment of 0.7% of GNI, agreed to almost half a century ago. Since the 2008 financial crisis, overseas development assistance has been hard hit by fiscal austerity cuts in OECD economies except in the UK under Cameron.

The Bank would probably recommend public-private partnerships (PPPs) and borrowing from it. Countries starved of their own funds would have to borrow from the Bank, but loans need to be repaid.

Governments lacking their own resources are being advised to rely on PPPs, despite predictable welfare outcomes – e.g., reduced equity and access due to higher user fees – and higher government contingent fiscal liabilities due to revenue guarantees and implicit subsidies.

Financially starved governments boost Bank lending while PPPs increase the role of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) in promoting private sector business. Realizing the Bank’s conflict of interest, many middle-income countries ignore Bank advice and seek to finance their investments and other activities by other means. Thus, there are now growing demands that the Bank stop promoting tax competition, deregulation and the rest of the Washington Consensus agenda.

Bank must support SDGs
However, nothing guarantees that the Bank will act accordingly. It has already ignored the recommendation of its independent panel to stop its misleading DB country rankings. While giving lip service to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others who have asked it to stop ranking countries by labour market flexibility, the Bank continues to promote labour market deregulation by other means.

If the Bank is serious about being a partner in achieving Agenda 2030, it should align its work accordingly, and support UN leadership on international tax cooperation besides enhancing governments’ ability to tax adequately, efficiently and equitably. In the meantime, the best option for developing countries is to ignore the Bank’s DB and Paying Taxes reports.

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More Public Spending, Not Tax Cuts, for Sustainable, Inclusive Growthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/public-spending-not-tax-cuts-sustainable-inclusive-growth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=public-spending-not-tax-cuts-sustainable-inclusive-growth http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/public-spending-not-tax-cuts-sustainable-inclusive-growth/#comments Tue, 26 Sep 2017 15:53:25 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152243 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Tax cuts do not magically improve economic growth. Instead, the government should focus on building more economic capacity with new investments in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), education, and anti-poverty programs. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

The Trump administration’s promise to increase infrastructure spending should break the straightjacket the Republicans imposed on the Obama administration after capturing the US Congress in 2010. However, in proportionate terms, it falls far short of Roosevelt’s New Deal effort to revive the US economy in the 1930s.

To make matters worse, reducing budget deficits remains the main economic policy goal of all too many OECD governments. Governments tend to cut social spending if they can get away with it without paying too high a political price.

But OECD governments’ belief that social spending — on health, education, childcare, etc. — is growth inhibiting is sorely mistaken. There is, in fact, overwhelming evidence of a positive relationship between public social spending and growth.

Return of supply-side economics
The cornerstone of all too many OECD government policies is tax cuts, especially for business corporations, ostensibly so that they will invest more with their higher retained earnings. This policy is premised on the long-discredited ‘supply-side economics’ promoted by conservative economists led by Arthur Laffer, popular during the early Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980s.

But in retrospect, it is clear that the tax cuts by the Reagan administration on high-income households and businesses failed to boost growth in the US. Harvard professor and National Bureau of Economic Research president emeritus Martin Feldstein, President Reagan’s former chief economist, and Douglas Elmendorf, the former Democrat-appointed Congressional Budget Office Director, have shown that the 1981 tax cuts had virtually no net impact on growth.

Similarly, the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts on ordinary incomes, capital gains, dividends and estates also failed to stimulate much growth, if any. In both cases, growth mainly came from other expansionary policies.

The OECD and the IMF also both doubt that tax cuts significantly induce investments. Cross-country research has found no relationship between changes in the top marginal tax rates and economic growth between 1960 and 2010. During this half-century period, although the US cut its top tax rate by over 40 percentage points, it only grew by just over two percent per annum on average. In contrast, Germany and Denmark, which barely changed their top rates at all, experienced similar growth rates.

Thus, tax cuts do not magically improve economic growth. Instead, the government should focus on building more economic capacity with new investments in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), education, and anti-poverty programs. As the IMF’s 2014 World Economic Outlook showed, the impacts of public investment are greatest during periods of low growth.

Social spending for economic recovery
Effective social programs provide immediate benefits to low-income families, enhancing long-term economic growth prospects. Increased income security improves health and increases university enrolment, leading to higher productivity and earnings.

Similarly, nutrition assistance programs improve beneficiaries’ health and cognitive capacities while housing assistance programs have other positive impacts. Investments in education result in a more skilled workforce, raising productivity and earnings as well as spurring innovation. Extra years of schooling are correlated with significant per capita income increases.

Investments in early childhood, including health and education, also enhance economic benefits. The earlier the interventions, the more cost-effective they tend to be; hence, OECD policymakers now promote preschool childcare and education.

Children enjoying early high-quality care and education programs are less likely to engage in criminal behaviour later in life; they are also more likely to graduate from secondary school and university. Reducing preschool costs also effectively raise mothers’ net incomes, inducing them to return to employment.

But the revenue boost from greater growth and productivity due to such social programs may not be enough to prevent rising deficits or debt. However, there are many ways to deal with revenue shortfalls, including new taxes as well as better regulations and enforcement to stem tax evasion. Progressive social protection programs and universal health care provisioning also help improve equity.

The ‘cure’ is the problem
This is not the time to reduce public debt through damaging cuts to social programs when most OECD economies are stagnant and the world economy continues to slow down. Hence, the current OECD priority should be to induce more robust and inclusive growth.

There is simply no robust evidence – old or new – of growth benefits from ‘supply-side’ tax cuts. This is the time for a pragmatic inclusive growth agenda, breaking free of the economic mythology which has held the world economy back for almost a decade.

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Out of Africa: Understanding Economic Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/africa-understanding-economic-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-understanding-economic-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/africa-understanding-economic-refugees/#comments Tue, 19 Sep 2017 15:19:45 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152132 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Young African migrants seek opportunities abroad as the World Bank projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

Not a single month has passed without dreadful disasters triggering desperate migrants to seek refuge in Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to enter Europe via Spain, Italy or Greece in the first half of this year. Last year, 5,096 deaths were recorded.

The majority – including ‘economic migrants’, victims of ‘people smugglers’, and so on – were young Africans aged between 17 and 25. The former head of the British mission in Benghazi (Libya) claimed in April that as many as a million more were already on their way to Libya, and then Europe, from across Africa.

Why flee Africa?
Why are so many young Africans trying to leave the continent of their birth? Why are they risking their lives to flee Africa?

Part of the answer lies in the failure of earlier economic policies of liberalization and privatization, typically introduced as part of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) that many countries in Africa were subjected to from the 1980s and onwards. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and most Western donors supported the SAPs, despite United Nations’ warnings about their adverse social consequences.

SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow, bringing growth and prosperity. Now, a few representatives from the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions admit that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, condemning the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’.

While SAPs were officially abandoned in the late 1990s, their replacements were little better. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) of the World Bank and IMF promised to reduce poverty with some modified policy conditionalities and prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the G8 countries reneged on their 2005 Gleneagles pledge to provide an extra US$25 billion a year for Africa as part of a US$50 billion increase in financial assistance to “make poverty history”.

Poor Africa

Thanks to the SAPs, PRSPs and complementary policies, Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century and during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

According to the World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa, the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

The continent has also been experiencing rising economic inequality, with higher inequality than in the rest of the developing world, even overtaking Latin America. National Gini coefficients – the most common measure of inequality – average around 0.45 for the continent, rising above 0.60 in some countries, and increasing in recent years.

While the continent is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’, with more young people (aged 15-24) in its population, it has failed to generate sufficient decent jobs. South Africa, the most developed economy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), has a youth unemployment rate of 54%.

The real situation could be even worse. Discouraged youth, unable to find decent jobs, drop out of the labour force, and consequently, are simply not counted.

Surviving in Africa
Most poor people simply cannot afford to remain unemployed in the absence of a decent social protection system. To survive, they have to accept whatever is available. Hence, Africa’s ‘working poor’ and underemployment ratios are much higher. In Ghana, for example, the official unemployment rate is 5.2%, while the underemployment rate is 47.0%!

Annual growth rates have often exceeded 5% in many African countries in the new century. SAP and PRSP advocates were quick to claim credit for the end of Africa’s ‘lost quarter century’, arguing that their harsh policy prescriptions were finally bearing fruit. After the commodity price collapse since 2014, the proponents have gone quiet.

With trade liberalization and consequently, greater specialization, many African countries are now even more dependent on fewer export commodities. The top five exports of SSA are all non-renewable natural resources, accounting for 60% of exports in 2013.

The linkages of extractive activities with the rest of national economies are now lower than ever. Thus, despite impressive economic growth rates, the nature of structural change in many African economies have made them more vulnerable to external shocks.

False start again?
Africa possesses about half the uncultivated arable land in the world. Sixty percent of SSA’s population work in jobs related to agriculture. However, agricultural productivity has mostly remained stagnant since 1980.

With agriculture stagnant, people moved from rural to urban areas, only to find life little improved. Thus, Africa has been experiencing rapid urbanization and slum growth. According to UN Habitat, 60% of SSA’s urban population live in slums, with poor access to basic services, let alone new technologies.

Powerful outside interests, including the BWIs and donors, have been advocating large farm production, claiming it to be the only way to boost productivity. Several governments have already leased out land to international agribusiness, often displacing settled local communities.

Meanwhile, Africa’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about 3% in 1970 to less than 2% in 2013. Manufacturing’s share of total African GDP has decreased from 16% in 1974 to around 13% in 2013. At around a tenth, manufacturing’s share of SSA’s output in 2013 is much lower than in other developing regions. Unsurprisingly, Africa has deindustrialized over the past four decades!

One cannot help but doubt how the G20’s new ‘compact with Africa’, showcased at Hamburg, can combat poverty and climate change effects, in addition to deterring the exodus out of Africa, without fundamental policy changes.

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Much more climate finance now!http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/much-climate-finance-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=much-climate-finance-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/much-climate-finance-now/#comments Tue, 12 Sep 2017 05:57:47 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152026 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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A seawall in Dominica. A recent report has called for specific measures to protect small islands from sea level rise. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 12 2017 (IPS)

Funding developing countries’ climate change mitigation and adaption efforts was never going to be easy. But it has become more uncertain with President Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accord. As a candidate, he threatened not to fulfil the modest US pledge of US$3 billion towards the 2020 target of US$100 billion yearly for the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

The GCF was formally established in December 2011 “to make a significant and ambitious contribution to the global efforts towards attaining the goals set by the international community to combat climate change”. In the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, developed economies had promised to mobilize US$100 billion yearly for climate finance by 2020.

However, only a small fraction has been pledged, let alone disbursed so far. As of July 2017, only US$10.1 billion has come from 43 governments, including 9 developing countries, mostly for start-up costs. Before Trump was elected, the US had contributed US$1 billion. Now that the US has announced its withdrawal from the 2015 climate treaty, the remaining US$2 billion will not be forthcoming.

Moreover, the US$100 billion goal is vague. For example, disputes continue over whether it refers to public funds, or whether leveraged private finance will also count. The OECD projected in 2016 that pledges worldwide would add up to US$67 billion yearly by 2020. But such estimates have been inflated by counting commercial loans to buy green technology from developed countries.

Cooperation needed

Even if all the pledged finance is raised, it would still be inadequate to finance a rapid transition to renewable energy globally, forest conservation as well as atmospheric greenhouse gas sequestration. The Hamburg-based World Future Council (WFC) estimates that globally, annual investment of US$2 trillion is needed to retain a chance of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

Obviously, the task is daunting, especially for developing countries more vulnerable to climate change. Therefore, in adopting the Marrakech Vision at the 2016 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22) to meet 100% domestic renewable energy production as rapidly as possible, 48 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum advocated an “international cooperative system” for “attaining a significant increase in climate investment in […] public and private climate finance from wide ranging sources, including international, regional and domestic mobilization.”

International cooperation is necessary, considering developing countries’ limited abilities to mobilize enough finance domestically. Much foreign funds are needed to import green technology. Additionally, most renewable energy investments needed in developing countries will not be profitable enough to attract private investment, especially foreign direct investment.

Hence, two options, proposed by the UN and the WFC respectively, are worth serious consideration. The UN proposal involves using Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a particular kind of development finance, namely climate finance. It involves floating bonds backed by SDRs, not directly spending SDRs. Thus, for example, the GCF would issue US$1 trillion in bonds, backed by US$100 billion in SDR equity.

QE for climate change mitigation
The WFC has proposed that central banks of developed countries continue ‘quantitative easing’ (QE), but not to buy existing financial assets. Instead, they should invest in ‘Green Climate Bonds’ (GCBs) issued by multilateral development banks, the GCF or some other designated climate finance institution to fund renewable energy projects in developing countries.

This should have some other potential benefits. First, it will not destabilize the financial system of emerging economies, whereas QE has fuelled speculation and asset price bubbles. Second, it is less likely to increase inflation as it will be used for productive investments. Third, for the above reasons, it should not exacerbate inequality.

Fourth, it will also help industrial countries as developing countries receiving climate finance will be importing technology and related services from developed economies. Fifth, GCBs can become near permanent assets of central banks due to their very long duration. Sixth, supporting sustainable development in climate vulnerable developing countries will ensure more balanced global development, which is also in the interest of industrialized countries themselves.

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Scaling up Development Financehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/scaling-development-finance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=scaling-development-finance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/scaling-development-finance/#respond Tue, 05 Sep 2017 15:21:51 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151937 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The United Nations and others have revived the idea of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issuing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to finance development. Credit: Sriyantha Walpola/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR , Sep 5 2017 (IPS)

The Business and Sustainable Development Commission has estimated that achievement of Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals will require US$2-3 trillion of additional investments annually compared to current world income of around US$115 trillion. This is a conservative estimate; annual investments of up to US$2 trillion yearly will be needed to have a chance of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C.

The greatest challenge, especially for developing countries, is to mobilize needed investments which may not be profitable. The United Nations and others have revived the idea of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issuing Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to finance development.

IMF quotas
SDRs were created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement member countries’ official reserves (e.g., gold and US dollars). They were designed to meet long-term international liquidity needs, rather than as a short-term remedy for payments imbalances. The SDR is not a currency, but a potential claim on freely usable currencies (e.g., USD) of IMF members.

Currently, SDRs are allocated among members according to their IMF quotas. IMF quotas determine a member’s maximum financial commitment, voting power and upper limit to financing. Determination of quotas has been influenced by the convertibility of currencies, as it provides the Fund with ‘drawable’ resources. Moreover, the current quota formula is highly influenced by countries’ GDPs and trade.

Despite some reforms over the decades, IMF quotas are biased in favour of rich countries. Thus, arguably, SDR distribution based on IMF quotas is not neutral. Allocating more rights to provide poor countries with development finance would help redress this bias.

Concessional finance
The UN has long argued for creating new reserve assets (i.e., SDRs) to augment development finance instead of current provisions for distribution according to IMF quotas.

Creating new SDRs for development finance has its origins in Keynes’ 1944 proposal for an international clearing union (ICU). The ICU was to be empowered to issue an international currency, tentatively named ‘bancor’. The ICU would also finance several international organizations pursuing desirable objectives such as post-war relief and reconstruction, preserving peace and maintaining international order, as well as managing commodities.

From the late 1950s, Robert Triffin and others urged empowering the IMF to issue special reserve assets to supplement development finance. In 1965, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) endorsed a plan similar to Triffin’s.

According to this plan, the IMF would issue units to all member countries against freely usable currencies deposited by members. The IMF would invest some of these currency deposits in World Bank or International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) bonds. The IBRD would then transfer some of these to the International Development Association (IDA) for long-term low-interest loans to the poorest countries.

Objections

However, the proposal was blocked by the Group of Ten developed countries. They argued that the proposal, for permanent transfers of real resources from developed to developing countries, would contradict the original intent of costless reserve creation. Additionally, the G10 argued, direct spending of SDRs would be inflationary.

The creation of SDRs is not an end in itself, but a means to raise living standards. Thus far, the SDR facility has been used to try to ensure more orderly and higher growth in international liquidity, e.g., following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, when a new allocation of SDR 182.7 billion was approved.

Also, by substituting for gold, which requires real resources to be mined, refined, transported and guarded, with costs of production and administration near zero, SDRs generate social savings, which can be used for internationally agreed objectives.

Jan Tinbergen argued that as the creation of new money always implies that the first recipient gets money without having produced something, this privilege should be given to the poor countries of the world, instead of the rich. But changing the SDR allocation formula requires amending the IMF Articles of Agreement, which requires approval of all powerful developed countries, which seems most unlikely in these times.

Development finance
Another recent UN proposal could help overcome resistance to issuing SDRs for development finance. The proposal involves floating bonds backed by SDRs, not directly spending SDRs. Arguably, leveraging SDRs thus would expose bond holders to illiquidity risks and distort the purpose (i.e., reserve asset) for which SDRs were first created.

Opposition to the proposal should be reduced by only leveraging ‘idle’ SDRs held by reserve-rich countries to purchase such bonds. This would be comparable to countries investing foreign currency reserves through sovereign wealth funds, where the liquidity and risk characteristics of specific assets in the fund determine whether they qualify as reserve holdings. Thus, careful design for leveraging SDRs, while maintaining their reserve function, can mitigate objections.

The proposal is also in line with current donor preference for blended finance, using aid to leverage private investment. Hence, this more modest and less ambitious proposal should face less political resistance from developed countries as it delinks the SDR distribution formula from the debate over amending IMF quotas.

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G20’s Record Does Not Inspire Hopehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20s-record-not-inspire-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=g20s-record-not-inspire-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/g20s-record-not-inspire-hope/#respond Fri, 07 Jul 2017 13:35:33 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151199 The G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July comes almost a decade after the grouping’s elevation to meeting at the heads of state/government level. Previously, the G20 had been an informal forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from advanced and emerging economies created in 1999 following the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis. […]

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By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

The G20 leaders meeting in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July comes almost a decade after the grouping’s elevation to meeting at the heads of state/government level. Previously, the G20 had been an informal forum of finance ministers and central bank governors from advanced and emerging economies created in 1999 following the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

Anis Chowdhury

The new grouping’s record in steering the global economy since the first summit in Washington, DC in November 2008 after the global financial crisis (GFC) was acknowledged by financial markets to have begun a couple of months before.

London Summit’s high point
At the following April 2009 London Summit, hosted by Gordon Brown, the G20 leaders demonstrated unprecedented solidarity in confronting the global meltdown with financial packages for the IMF, World Bank and others worth USD1.1 trillion. The London financial package included USD250 billion to help developing countries secure trade finance in the face of financial uncertainty.

These measures succeeded in turning the tide, with world economic growth recovering robustly from minus 2.1% in 2009 to plus 4.1% in 2010, exceeding the pre-crisis 2007 level of 3.8%. G20 boosters are inclined to claim that the London Summit pulled the global economy from the cusp of the first post-Second World War “great depression”.

However, there has been little evidence of how the funds may have saved the world economy. There has been modest trade growth since 2008 — after earlier sustained trade expansion — as most G20 member countries introduced essentially ‘protectionist’ trade measures despite their declared commitment to the contrary. The leaders also agreed to develop new financial regulations and improve financial supervision, but the patchwork which emerged has had limited and mixed consequences.

Toronto U turn
G20 leadership, evident at the April 2009 London summit, was abdicated with its U turn at the June 2010 Toronto summit while claiming success for its earlier collective efforts. The Canadian hosts trumpeted its own strong recovery from around -3% in 2009 to +3% in 2010 as the G20 exaggerated hints of recovery to pave the way for ‘fiscal consolidation’ instead.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Canada received strong support from Germany and Japan which also claimed strong recoveries. Further support came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) which invoked the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation hypothesis’ to claim that urgent U turns would boost investor confidence to sustain economic recovery.

The U turn from Keynesian-style debt-financed fiscal stimulus measures deprived the modest recovery of the means for sustaining renewed expansion, thus ensuring the GFC’s ‘Great Recession’, which has dragged on in much of the North for almost a decade since, dragging down world and developing country growth in recent years.

Recession self-inflicted
Despite warnings from the United Nations and a few others against premature fiscal consolidation, G20 leaders at the Toronto Summit agreed to cut budget deficits in half by 2013, and to eliminate deficits altogether by 2016! The decision triggered a double dip recession in Japan and some Eurozone countries.

Canada and Germany, which pushed for rapid fiscal consolidation, have since experienced significantly slower growth averaging 1.8% and 1.2% respectively. The global economy thus began a prolonged period of anaemic growth averaging around 2.5% per annum.

Clearly, G20 economic growth continues to be modest. They are still unable to attain the 2010 growth rate, giving the lie to the ‘expansionary fiscal consolidation’ claim. The IMF has since acknowledged that its initial recommendation of rapid fiscal consolidation was based on “back of the envelope” calculations!

Research also shows that fiscal consolidation has exacerbated income inequality while fiscal consolidation basically began once financial sectors had been rescued from the consequences of their own greedy operations.

Ersatz substitute
Lack of accountability to the rest of the world has also meant that the G20 continues to undermine multilateralism. Inclusive multilateralism is now being threatened on many other fronts as well, not least by the Trumpian turn in the White House and the growing tendency for the Europeans to act as a bloc.

The G20’s broader membership has made negotiations and consultations more difficult than those involving the G7 grouping of major developed economies. But its greater inclusion and diversity has also ensured its superior record compared to the G7, which continues to decline in relevance.

As the Toronto U turn and its devastating legacy remind us, the G20’s finest moment after its London summit in 2009 was easily reversed through host country efforts although the US and China were acting quite differently in practice.

Expectations of the Hamburg G20 summit are now quite modest, and there is greater media and public interest in the bilateral meetings around the event. It is a sad reminder that needed reforms to improve the world economy and the welfare of its people are unlikely to come from the G20, and tragically, from any other quarter for some time to come.

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World Bank fudges on inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-bank-fudges-on-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-fudges-on-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-bank-fudges-on-inequality/#respond Tue, 09 May 2017 14:24:31 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150363 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.

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Demonstrations against austerity measures in Athens. The World Bank's Doing Business Report 2017 finds that the greatest increase of inequality during 2008-2013 occurred in Greece. Credit : IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, May 9 2017 (IPS)

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – collectively drafted and then officially agreed to, at the highest level, by all Member States of the United Nations in September 2015 – involves specific targets to be achieved mainly by 2030. The Agenda seeks to “leave no-one behind” and claims roots in universal human rights. Thus, addressing inequalities and discrimination is central to the SDGs. Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality is the World Bank’s first annual report tracking progress towards the two key SDGs on poverty and inequality.

Annual reporting on poverty, inequality
This particular report evaluates progress towards reducing extreme poverty to 3% of the global population and sustaining per capita income growth of the bottom 40% of the population faster than the national average. According to the Bank, with global economic growth slowing, reduction of income inequality will be necessary to ending poverty and enhancing shared prosperity.

The report focuses on inequality, which was generally neglected until fairly recently by most international organizations other than the UN itself. It provides some useful analyses of inequality, including discussion of its causes. However, it does not explain its claim of a modest partial reversal of previously growing inequality in the years 2008-2013 which it examines.

However, the report’s policy recommendations are surprisingly limited, perhaps because it neither analyses nor proposes measures to address wealth inequality, which is much greater than and greatly influences income inequality. Although it recognizes that increasing minimum wages and formalizing employment can contribute to reducing income inequalities, it does not talk about the determinants of wages, working conditions and employment. It also has nothing to say about land reform – an important factor contributing to shared prosperity in East Asia, China, Vietnam, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

Its discussion of fiscal consolidation’s impact on inequality is misleading, even claiming, “European Union (EU) countries have embarked on comprehensive fiscal consolidations based on clear equity considerations in response to the 2008–09 financial crisis”. This implies that fiscal consolidation yields long-run equity gains at the cost of short-run pains which can be cushioned by safety-net measures – a finding contrary to International Monetary Fund (IMF) research findings!

Instead of the more conventional inequality measures such as the Gini coefficient or the more innovative Atkinson index, the World Bank has promoted “boosting the bottom 40 percent”. Yet, in much of its discussion, the report abandons this indicator in favour of the Gini index. Nevertheless, the report dwells on its “shared prosperity premium”, defined as the difference between the increased income of the bottom 40% and the growth in mean income.

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017 implies labour market regulations adversely impact inequality, even though it admits that they can “reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion”. Yet, the report promotes fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

The Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017 also implies that lower business regulation results in lower inequality. It claims this on the basis of negative associations between Gini coefficients and scores for starting a business and resolving insolvency. However, curiously, it does not discuss the association between other Doing Business scores, e.g., paying tax or getting credit, etc., and the Gini index.

Recent progress?
About two-thirds of the 83 countries analysed had a shared prosperity premium during 2008-2013, a period characterized by asset price collapses and sharply increased youth unemployment in many OECD economies. This unrepresentative sample is uneven among regions, and surprisingly, even some large rich countries such as Japan, South Korea and Canada are missing.

Recognizing that the shared prosperity premium is generally low, the report concedes that “the goal of ending poverty by 2030 cannot be reached at current levels of economic growth” and that “reduction of inequality will be key to reaching the poverty goal”.

The global Gini index has declined since the 1990s due to rapidly rising incomes in China and India, while within-country inequality has generally increased. More optimistically, the Bank notes that Gini coefficients fell in five of seven world regions during 2008-2013 despite or perhaps because of much slower growth. The report notes that the “progress is all the more significant given that it has taken place in a period marked by the global financial crisis of 2008-09”. As others have noted, the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent Great Recession may have only temporarily reversed growing inequality.

Greek tragedy
After very impressive growth for a decade, the Greek economy went into recession in 2008-2009, together with other European countries. With severe austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF as bailout conditions, Greece fell into a full-blown depression with various adverse income and distributional impacts.

The report finds that the greatest increase of inequality during 2008-2013 occurred in Greece, where the mean household income of the bottom 40% shrunk by an average of 10% annually. Fortunately, as the Bank notes, some measures – such as lump sum transfers, introduced in 2014 for low-income families and the vulnerable, along with ‘emergency’ property taxes – “prevented additional surges in inequality”.

Brazil progress at risk

Brazil is the most significant of its five “best performers” in narrowing income inequality, with its Gini coefficient falling from 0.63 in 1989 to 0.51 in 2014. The report attributes four-fifths of the decline in inequality in 2003-2013 to “labor market dynamics” and social program expansion. Alarmingly, the new government has threatened to end regular minimum wage increases and to limit social program expenditure.

“Labor market dynamics” – deemed far more important by other analysts – include regular minimum wage increases, formalization of unprotected workers and strengthened collective bargaining rights. Social pensions and other social program benefits account for much more of the decline in inequality than the much touted Bolsa Familia.

The report makes recommendations on six “high-impact strategies”: early childhood development, universal health coverage, universal access to quality education, cash transfers to the poor, rural infrastructure and progressive taxation. While certainly not objectionable, the recommendations do not always draw on and could easily have been made without the preceding analysis.

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Growing Inequality under Global Capitalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/growing-inequality-under-global-capitalism/#comments Thu, 04 May 2017 14:41:32 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150295 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, May 4 2017 (IPS)

Income and wealth inequality has increased in recent decades, but recognition of the role of economic liberalization and globalization in exacerbating inequality has never been so widespread. The guardians of global capitalism are nervous, yet little has been done to check, let alone reverse the underlying forces.

Global elite alarmed by growing inequality
The World Economic Forum (WEF) has described severe income inequality as the biggest risk facing the world. WEF founder Klaus Schwab has observed, ‘We have too large a disparity in the world; we need more inclusiveness… If we continue to have un-inclusive growth and we continue with the unemployment situation, particularly youth unemployment, our global society is not sustainable.’

Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, told political and business leaders at the WEF, “in far too many countries the benefits of growth are being enjoyed by far too few people. This is not a recipe for stability and sustainability”. Similarly, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim has warned that failure to tackle inequality risked causing social unrest. “It’s going to erupt to a great extent because of these inequalities.”

In the same vein, the influential US Council of Foreign Relations’ journal, Foreign Affairs carried an article cautioning, “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the post-industrial capitalist world…. if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large.”

Much ado about nothing?

Increasingly, the main benefits of economic growth are being captured by a tiny elite. Despite global economic stagnation for almost a decade, the number of billionaires in the world has increased to a record 2,199. The richest one per cent of the world’s population now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. The world’s eight richest people have as much wealth as the poorer half.

In India, the number of billionaires has increased at least tenfold in the past decade. India now has 111 billionaires, third in the world by country. The largest number of the world’s abject poor also live in the same country — over 425 million, a third of the world’s poor, and well over a third of the country’s population.

Africa had a resource boom for a decade until 2014, but most people there still struggle daily for food, clean water and health care. Meanwhile, the number of people living in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, has grown substantially to at least 330 million from 280 million in 1990!

In Europe, poor people bore the brunt of draconian austerity policies while bank bailouts mainly benefited the moneyed. 122.3 million people, or 24.4 per cent of the population in the EU-28, are at risk of poverty. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of Europeans without enough money to heat their homes or cope with unforeseen expenses, i.e., living with ‘severe material deprivation’, rose by 7.5 million to 50 million people, while the continent is home to 342 billionaires!

In the United States, the income share of the top one per cent is at its highest level since the eve of the Great Depression, almost nine decades ago. The top 0.01 per cent, or 14,000 American families, own 22.2 per cent of its wealth, while the bottom 90 per cent, over 133 million families, own a meagre four per cent of the nation’s wealth. The top five per cent of households increased their share of US wealth, especially after the 2008 financial crisis. Meanwhile, the richest one per cent tripled their share of US income within a generation.

This unprecedented wealth concentration and the corresponding deprivation of others have generated backlashes, arguably contributing to the victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, the Brexit referendum, the strength of Marine Le Pen in France and the Alternative for Germany, and the ascendance of the Hindutva right in secular India.

‘Communist’ China and inequality
Meanwhile, China has increasingly participated in and grown rapidly as inequality has risen sharply in the ostensibly communist-ruled country. China has supplied cheaper consumer goods to the world, checking inflation and improving living standards for many. Part of its huge trade surplus — due to relatively low, albeit recently rising wages — has been recycled in financial markets, mainly in the US, which helped expand credit at low interest rates there.

Thus, cheap consumer products and cheap credit have enabled the slowly shrinking ‘middle class’ in the West to mitigate the downward pressure on their living standards despite stagnating or falling real wages and mounting personal and household debt.

China’s export-led development on the basis of low wages has sharply increased income inequality in the world’s largest country for more than three decades. Beijing is the new ‘billionaire capital of the world’, no longer New York. China now has 594 billionaires, 33 more than in the US!

Since the 1980s, income inequality in China has risen faster than most! China now has one of the world’s highest levels of income inequality, rising mainly in the last three decades. The richest one per cent of households own a third of the country’s wealth, while the poorest quarter own only one per cent. China’s Gini coefficient for income rose to 0.49 in 2012 from 0.3 over three decades before when it was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. Another survey put China’s income Gini at 0.61 in 2010, greatly exceeding the US’s 0.45!

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World Bank Must Stop Encouraging Harmful Tax Competitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/world-bank-must-stop-encouraging-harmful-tax-competition/#comments Wed, 26 Apr 2017 14:33:16 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150163 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 26 2017 (IPS)

One of the 11 areas that the World Bank’s Doing Business (DB) report includes in ranking a country’s business environment is paying taxes. The background study for DB 2017, Paying Taxes 2016 claims that its emphasis is “on efficient tax compliance and straightforward tax regimes”.

The World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. As a result, tax revenues in developing countries continue to fall. Credit: IPS

The World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. As a result, tax revenues in developing countries continue to fall. Credit: IPS

Its ostensible aim is to aid developing countries in enhancing the administrative capacities of tax authorities as well as reducing informal economic activities and corruption, while promoting growth and investment. All well and good, until we get into the details.

Tax less
First, the Report advocates not only administrative efficiency, but also lower tax rates. Any country that reduces tax rates, or raises the threshold for taxable income, or provides exemptions, gets approval.

Second, it exaggerates the tax burden by including, for example, employees’ health insurance and pensions and charges for public services like waste collection and infrastructure or environmental levies that the businesses must pay. The IMF’s Government Financial Statistics Manual correctly treats these separately from general tax revenues.

Third, by favourably viewing countries that lower corporate tax rates (or increase threshold and exemptions) and negatively considering those that introduce new taxes, DB is essentially encouraging tax competition among developing countries.

Thus, the Bank is ignoring research at the OECD and IMF which has not found any convincing evidence that lower corporate tax rates or other fiscal concessions have any positive impact on foreign direct investment.

Instead, they found net adverse impacts of tax concessions and fiscal incentives on government revenues. According to the research, factors such as the availability and quality of infrastructure and human resources were more important for investment decisions than taxes.

The World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys also do not find paying taxes to be high on the list of factors that enterprise owners perceive as important barriers to investment. For example, the Enterprise Survey for the Middle East and North Africa found political instability, corruption, unreliable electricity supply, and inadequate access to finance to be important considerations; paying taxes or tax rates were not.

Yet, the World Bank has been promoting tax cuts and tax competition as magic bullets to boost investment. Not surprisingly, thanks to its still considerable influence, tax revenues in developing countries are not rising enough, or worse, continue to fall. According to some estimates, between 1990 and 2001, reduction in corporate taxes lowered countries’ tax revenue by nearly 20%.

Instead of encouraging tax competition, therefore, the World Bank should help developing countries improve tax administration to enhance collection and compliance, and to reduce evasion and avoidance. According to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria, “developing countries are estimated to lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid”.

Global Financial Integrity has estimated that illicit financial flows of potentially taxable resources out of developing countries was US$7.85 trillion during 2004-2013 and US$1.1 trillion in 2013 alone!

Conflicts of interest

However, the Bank’s Paying Taxes and DB reports do little to strengthen developing countries’ tax revenues. This should come as no surprise as its partner for the former study is Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC), one of the ‘Big Four’ leading international accounting and consultancy firms. PwC competes with KPMG, Ernst & Young and Deloitte for the lucrative business of helping clients minimize their tax liabilities. PwC assisted its clients in obtaining at least 548 tax rulings in Luxembourg between 2002 and 2010, enabling them to avoid corporate income tax elsewhere.

How are developing countries expected to finance their infrastructure investment needs, increase social protection coverage, or repair their damaged environments? Instead of helping, the Bank’s most influential report urges them to cut corporate tax rates and social contributions to improve their DB ranking, contrary to what then Bank Chief Economist Kaushik Basu observed: “Raising [tax] allows developing countries to invest in education, health and infrastructure, and, hence, in promoting growth.”

How are they supposed to achieve the internationally agreed Agenda 2030 for the Sustainable Development Goals in the face of dwindling foreign aid. After all, only a few donor countries have fulfilled their aid commitment of 0.7% of GNI, agreed to almost half a century ago. Since the 2008 financial crisis, overseas development assistance has been hard hit by fiscal austerity cuts in OECD economies except in the UK under Cameron.

The Bank would probably recommend public-private partnerships (PPPs) and borrowing from it. Countries starved of their own funds would have to borrow from the Bank, but loans need to be repaid. Governments lacking their own resources are being advised to rely on PPPs, despite predictable welfare outcomes – e.g., reduced equity and access due to higher user fees – and higher government contingent fiscal liabilities due to revenue guarantees and implicit subsidies.

Financially starved governments boost Bank lending while PPPs increase the role of its International Finance Corporation (IFC) in promoting private sector business. Realizing the Bank’s conflict of interest, many middle-income countries ignore Bank advice and seek to finance their investments and other activities by other means. Thus, there are now growing demands that the Bank stop promoting tax competition, deregulation and the rest of the Washington Consensus agenda.

Bank must support SDGs
However, nothing guarantees that the Bank will act accordingly. It has already ignored the recommendation of its independent panel to stop its misleading DB country rankings. While giving lip service to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and others who have asked it to stop ranking countries by labour market flexibility, the Bank continues to promote labour market deregulation by other means.

If the Bank is serious about being a partner in achieving Agenda 2030, it should align its work accordingly, and support UN leadership on international tax cooperation besides enhancing governments’ ability to tax adequately, efficiently, and equitably. In the meantime, the best option for developing countries is to ignore the Bank’s DB and Paying Taxes reports.

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Reclaiming the Bandung Spirit for Shared Prosperityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/reclaiming-the-bandung-spirit-for-shared-prosperity/#respond Mon, 24 Apr 2017 07:17:03 +0000 Noeleen Heyzer and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150094 Noeleen Heyzer, former Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. She was also special advisor to the UN-Secretary-General for Timor Leste.

Anis Chowdhury, former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok.

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Noeleen Heyzer, former Executive Secretary of UN-ESCAP and Under-Secretary-General of the UN. She was also special advisor to the UN-Secretary-General for Timor Leste.

Anis Chowdhury, former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok.

By Noeleen Heyzer and Anis Chowdhury
Bangkok and Sydney, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

“The despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs of the human race were meeting. … Who had thought of organizing such a meeting? And what had these nations in common? Nothing, it seemed to me, but what their past relationship to the Western world had made them feel. This meeting of the rejected was in itself a kind of judgment upon the Western world!.”

—Richard Wright, The Color Curtain [University Press of Mississippi, 1956].

This is how Richard Wright, a novelist saw the gathering of leaders from 29 African and Asian nations at Bandung (Indonesia) on 18-25 April, 1955 of 29.

Noeleen Heyzer

Noeleen Heyzer

The leaders, prominent among them Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Chou En Lai (China), Ho Chi Minh (Viet Nam), and Adam Clayton Powell (Congressman from Harlem, USA), considered how they could help one another in achieving social and economic well-being for their large and impoverished populations. Their agenda addressed race, religion, colonialism, national sovereignty, and the promotion of world peace. In opening the conference, the President of Indonesia, Ahmed Sukarno asked,

“What can we do? We can do much! We can inject the voice of reason into world affairs. We can mobilize all the spiritual, all the moral, all the political strength of Asia and Africa on the side of peace. Yes, we! We, the peoples of Asia and Africa, …, we can mobilize what I have called the Moral Violence of Nations in favour of peace.

The Bandung declaration

The final communiqué expressed, “general desire for economic co-operation among the participating countries on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty”; “agreed to provide technical assistance to one another”; “recognized the vital need for stabilizing commodity trade”; recommended that: “Asian-African countries should diversify their export trade by processing their raw material, wherever economically feasible, before export”; promote “intraregional trade”; and provide “facilities for transit trade of land-locked countries”.

The rise of the Third World and demand for a New International Economic Order

Anis Chowdhury

Anis Chowdhury

It was the beginning of what came to be known as the “non-aligned” movement and the “Third World” and within the United Nations, the Group of 77 plus China. With this confidence they called for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) recognized at the 1974 General Assembly, based on equity, sovereign equality, interdependence, common interest and cooperation among all States, to correct inequalities and redress existing injustices; to eliminate the widening gap between the developed and the developing countries; and to ensure steadily accelerating economic and social development and peace and justice for present and future generations.

The NIEO declaration was, in effect, a call for shared and differentiated responsibility for equitable development.

Unfortunately, many aspects of the NIEO were never implemented. While the developing countries sought strategic integration with the global economy using trade and industry policies, they were advised to accept unfettered liberalization and privatization, which saw increased volatility and financial crises often disproportionately disadvantaging them. The aid conditionality of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank included straight-jacketed package of so-called “sound policies” that emphasized deregulation and a diminished role for the State. This drastically reduced state capability and developing countries’ policy space to deal with crises, pursue their developmental aspirations and achieve structural transformation.

Through the experience of the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s and the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the countries of the South have realized that they have to create their own policy space and craft out policies based on their own circumstances. Thus, they managed to grow steadily over the last two decades and were able to weather the 2008-2009 Great Recession remarkably well to anchor the global economic recovery.

The Global South is no longer a collection of “despised, the insulted, the hurt, the dispossessed—in short, the underdogs”; they are the drivers of global economy.

Global South’s fault-lines

However, the issues facing developing countries are more complex now. They are faced with issues of inequalities and insecurities which affect social cohesion; climate change and uneven competition in global markets when key global negotiations on trade and climate change have broken down. They also face the potential danger of weakening of solidarity as the members of the Global South seek different interests.

It does not help when governance failure occurs in a number of the developing countries; when some are ripped apart by violent internal or regional conflicts, or manipulated because of rising extremisms of many sorts. Corruptions, lack of accountability and trembling of human rights are affront to the aspirations of independence and hinder the fulfilment of development and dignity for all. The governance failures and divided societies within have also weakened the developing South’s ability to deal with issues of international governance in the globalizing world, and our common future even with “Rising Asia”.

Reclaiming the Bandung spirit

Time has come for the rising Global South to collectively work for the unfinished business of a new international economic order that today has to take a more integrated and universal approach for people, planet and prosperity as highlighted in the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development goals (SDGs); to stabilize commodity prices; to improve export incomes; to ensure food security; to demand improved access to markets in developed countries; to put a stop to siphoning off capital through dubious transfer pricing arrangements of multinational corporations and international tax havens; to eliminate the instability of the international monetary system; to ensue full and effective participation in all decision-making in all global bodies, including the IMF and the World Bank, and in formulating an equitable and durable monetary system.

However, the developing South must lead by putting its own house in order; improve democratic governance, respect human rights especially women’s human rights, and ensure wider freedom of its own citizen to re-establish legitimacy and trust through a new social contract that responds to the needs and hopes of all citizens, not just in form but in substance.

In the spirit of Bandung, they have to work together for the prosperity of their people and to protect humanity’s common good, especially our planet. They should recall the message, “All of us … are united by more important things than those which superficially divide us. … And we are united by a common determination to preserve and stabilize peace in the world. . . .”

It is time to come together and advance together to address the risks and challenges that confront our world and harness the opportunities to build a more inclusive and sustainable future of shared prosperity. Only then can we sing:

A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore! (Longfellow; from President Sukarno’s opening speech).

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Economic Recovery Crucial to Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/economic-recovery-crucial-to-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=economic-recovery-crucial-to-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/economic-recovery-crucial-to-sustainable-development/#comments Tue, 11 Apr 2017 14:08:49 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149903 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) was the only such report to identify risks to the global economy before the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, while both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) largely ignored them. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Apr 11 2017 (IPS)

More than eight years after the global financial crisis exploded in late 2008, economic growth remains generally tepid, while ostensible recovery measures appear to have exacerbated income and other inequalities. Yet, despite the G-20 group of the world’s largest economies raising the level, frequency and profile of its meetings, effective multilateral cooperation and coordination remains a distant dream.

Little reason to cheer
The United Nations’ recent World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2017 offers little cause for comfort:
• the world economy has not yet emerged from the protracted slow growth following the 2008 financial crisis;
• significant uncertainties and risks weigh heavily on its projected modest global recovery for 2017-2018;
• despite modest economic growth, global carbon emissions have not declined in the last two years;
• more alarmingly, new investment in renewable energy dropped sharply in the first half of 2016, as progress in emissions mitigation in recent years could easily be reversed;
• growth in the least developed countries (LDCs) will remain well below the sustainable development goals (SDGs) target in the near term; and
• below-target growth and tax revenue threaten critical public expenditure on healthcare, education, social protection, and climate change adaptation.

Credibility
Unfortunately, the WESP does not attract as much media attention or fanfare as other similar global reports, such as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) World Economic Outlook or the OECD’s Global Economic Outlook. Nevertheless, WESP was the only such report to identify risks to the global economy before the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, while both the IMF and OECD largely ignored them.

Even after US sub-prime housing debt problems became apparent and Lehman Brothers had collapsed, both remained optimistic, predicting a soft-landing in the US at worst, which they suggested would be off-set by robust growth in Europe. Both supported the turn to ‘fiscal consolidation’ as soon as ostensible ‘green shoots of recovery’ were spotted in 2019. Despite greater consideration of ostensibly Keynesian policy options since, seriously Keynesian macroeconomic analysis remains largely off-limits.

Global recovery?
WESP 2017 identifies policy paralysis and lack of policy coordination as among the main factors holding back global economic recovery. Over-reliance on unconventional monetary policy and fiscal consolidation in major economies, especially in Europe, are contributing not only to policy uncertainty, but also to growing inequality.

Protracted weak global demand – due to fiscal contraction, high household debt and growing inequality – has reduced incentives for firms to invest. Political and policy uncertainties, due to events such as ‘Brexit’, have also discouraged private investment. Thus, investment has slowed significantly in major developed and emerging economies. The extended period of weak investment is driving the slowdown in productivity growth.

Meanwhile, international trade expanded by just 1.2 per cent in 2016, the third-lowest rate in the past three decades. Slow world trade growth is both contributing to and symptomatic of the global economic slowdown.

What needs to be done?
Thus, WESP 2017 calls for a more balanced policy mix – moving beyond excessive reliance on monetary policy – to restore a healthy growth trajectory over the medium-term for the global economy as well as to tackle some social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Government support for public goods, such as combating climate change, remains crucial, as private investors tend to evaluate risk and return over short-term horizons and under-invest in public priorities. Investment in research and development, education and infrastructure would promote sustainable development as well as social and environmental progress, while supporting productivity growth.

WESP 2017 also calls for greater international coordination to ensure complementarities among trade, investment, and other public policies, and to better align the multilateral trading system with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure inclusive growth and decent work for all.

Global Green New Deal

Any recession or economic crisis also offers the opportunity to weed-out lagging activities or obsolete practices, and to restructure the economy to put it on a more sustainable path. Thus, to tackle the global financial crisis, in early 2009, the UN proposed a Global Green New Deal (GGND) comprising of public work programmes and social protection, including in developing countries. This bold proposal remains relevant as the global economy struggles to recover, and achievement of the SDGs is threatened.

Most critically, public works programmes should be launched, not only in developed countries, which can resort to deficit financing, but also in developing countries, where resources are more limited and policies are generally more hostage to the global financial system. Thus, GGND can not only accelerate economic recovery and job creation, but also address sustainable development challenges more generally. To be more effective, GGND should be part of a broader international counter-cyclical effort comprising three main elements:
1. Financial support for developing countries, provided through the multilateral system, to prevent their economic slowdown.
2. National government-led investment packages in developed and developing countries to revive and ‘green’ national economies.
3. International policy coordination to ensure that developed countries’ investment packages not only create jobs in developed countries, but also have strong developmental impacts in developing countries. These should involve collaborative initiatives among governments of developed and developing countries.

The window of opportunity to restructure the global economy towards a more sustainable path has been closing as governments procrastinate, adopt self-defeating fiscal consolidation policies, and give up economic management responsibility to the monetary authorities. ‘Quantitative easing’ has not only failed to ensure a robust recovery, but has also exacerbated the inequalities and disparities breeding ethno-chauvinist populism. Bold, internationally well-coordinated actions are needed now more than ever.

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Can the SDGs be financed?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/can-the-sdgs-be-financed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-the-sdgs-be-financed http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/can-the-sdgs-be-financed/#comments Wed, 29 Mar 2017 14:26:28 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149701 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's 2014 World Investment Report estimated that developing countries would need US$2.5 trillion annually until 2030 to achieve their SDGs. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 29 2017 (IPS)

Investment in the least developed countries (LDCs) will need to rise by at least 11 per cent annually through 2030, a little more than the 8.9 per cent between 2010 and 2015, in order for them to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations’ World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2017 focuses on the difficulties in securing sufficient financing for the SDGs given the global financial system and current economic environment.

Big financing gaps
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s 2014 World Investment Report estimated that developing countries would need US$2.5 trillion annually until 2030 to achieve their SDGs. According to UNCTAD’s 2016 Development and Globalization: Facts and Figures, to close the large infrastructure deficit in developing countries, spending must reach US$1.8–2.3 trillion per year by 2020, compared with the current US$0.8–0.9 trillion.

These UN estimated financing gaps have been corroborated by others, such as the World Bank, OECD and World Economic Forum (WEF). For example, the estimated annual investment needed to attain the SDGs, according to the WEF, is US$3.9 trillion against the current average of US$1.4 trillion, a shortfall of US$2.5 trillion yearly.

Avoidable financing gaps
Unfortunately, the financing gap is not due to global shortages, but rather, to problems of allocation due to global economic governance and geopolitics, influencing investors, donor and developing countries. The current global environment – characterized by weak economic growth, slow trade expansion, soft commodity prices and volatile international capital flows – has made things worse.

If rich countries had met the 0.7% aid target from 2002, developing countries would now been at least US$2 trillion better off. But overall aid has never ever reached even half the target since the 1960s and currently stands at 0.30%. The aid gap for 2014 alone was more than US$192 million. Furthermore, refugee spending is reducing country programmable aid.

Meanwhile, developing countries are losing a great deal to tax havens, and transfer pricing, or trade mis-invoicing, by transnational corporations (TNCs). As the Panama papers revealed, tax-havens not only enable TNCs to evade taxes, but also launder ‘dirty money’.

Illicit financial flows (IFFs) from developing and emerging economies between 2004 and 2013 were estimated at US$7.8 trillion, greater than combined aid and FDI flows to poor countries. Between 2010 and June 2012, OECD countries froze US$1.4 billion of corruption-related assets, but only returned US$147 million to the countries of origin! Thus, preventing or even reducing IFFs and returning the confiscated resources can help close the funding gap.

Generating revenue
Imposition of a small tax on short-term capital flows – known as the ‘Tobin tax’ – can not only reduce their volatility, but also the risk of financial crises. This can reduce the need for holding foreign reserves for protection, and enhance the development impact of capital flows. A global Tobin tax could generate between US$147 billion and US$1.6 trillion annually depending on the rate and coverage. Similarly, a global financial transactions tax (FTT) system could generate very significant resources, at least as much as aid, if not more. .

Institutional investors hold trillions of dollars in liquid assets, instead of investing in long-term projects. For example, pension funds hold around US$34 trillion in assets, with the largest ones holding 76 per cent of their portfolios in liquid assets. Meanwhile, sovereign wealth funds hold most of their funds in liquid financial assets in developed economies, with less than 5 per cent in direct investments. Rising political risks have made raising long-term investments particularly challenging.

The only bright spot is improvements in developing countries’ domestic resource mobilization. Developing countries have increased tax revenue collection over the last 15 years as tax incidence has become more regressive. The largest increases in revenues were in LDCs, economies in transition and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. But their domestic resources still remain far short of development finance needs.

Debt crisis threat
As most types of capital inflows decline, more developing countries are borrowing externally, resulting in a rising foreign debt-GDP ratio, reversing the trend in the last decade. Although modest, the recently rising external debt-GDP ratio is more pronounced in low-income countries, increasing from 31 to 35 per cent of GDP during 2014-2015.

Twenty low-income countries are at high risk of debt distress, compared to 13 in April 2015; three of them are considered to actually be in debt distress. The sharp fall in commodity prices, rising US interest rates and protracted slow growth are likely to worsen the situation, particularly for LDCs and small island developing states.

Greater vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters will further exacerbate their sovereign debt problems. Developing countries often get stuck in debt crises because there is no internationally agreed framework for timely, orderly and fair sovereign debt work-outs.

UN response
It has also supported developing countries’ call for an internationally agreed legal framework for timely, orderly and fair sovereign debt work-outs. It endorses developing countries’ call to strengthen international efforts to combat illicit financial flows, and continues to remind developed countries to meet their aid commitment.

The UN has long argued for the reform of global economic governance in line with changing global economic circumstances and to better serve developing countries’ interests. It has also called for a truly international reserve currency (e.g., Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs) not linked to any country’s currency, and for the fair allocation of newly issued SDRs for international development finance.

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Most Financial Inflows Not Developmentalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/most-financial-inflows-not-developmental/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=most-financial-inflows-not-developmental http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/most-financial-inflows-not-developmental/#comments Tue, 14 Mar 2017 15:11:01 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149410 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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The World Economic Situation and Prospect report 2017 calls for a complete revamp of the international financial system to address development finance issues and ensure needed resource transfers to developing countries. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 14 2017 (IPS)

Recent disturbing trends in international finance have particularly problematic implications, especially for developing countries. The recently released United Nations report, World Economic Situation and Prospects 2017 (WESP 2017) is the only recent report of a multilateral inter-governmental organization to recognize these problems, especially as they are relevant to the financing requirements for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Resource outflows rising
Developing countries have long experienced net resource transfers abroad. Capital has flowed from developing to developed countries for many years, peaking at US$800 billion in 2008 when the financial crisis erupted. Net transfers from developing countries in 2016 came close to US$500 billion, slightly more than in 2015.

Most financial flows to developing and transition economies initially rebounded following the 2008 crisis, peaking at US$615 billion in 2010, but began to slow thereafter, turning negative from 2014. Such a multi-year reversal in global flows has not been seen since 1990.

Negative net resource transfers from developing countries are largely due to investments abroad, mainly in safe, low-yielding US Treasury bonds. In the first quarter of 2016, 64 per cent of official reserves were held in US$-denominated assets, up from 61 per cent in 2014.

High opportunity costs

By investing abroad, developing countries may avoid currency appreciation due to rising foreign reserves, and thus maintain international cost competitiveness. But such investment choices involve substantial opportunity costs as such resources could instead be used to build infrastructure, or for social investments to improve education and healthcare.

The African Development Bank estimates that African countries held between US$165.5 and US$193.6 billion in reserves on average between 2000 and 2011, much more than the infrastructure financing gap estimated at US$93 billion yearly. The social costs of holding such reserves range from 0.35% to 1.67% of GDP. Investing about half these reserves would go a long way to meeting infrastructure financing needs on the continent.

This high opportunity cost is due to the biased nature of the international financial system in which the US dollar is the preferred reserve currency. As there is no fair and adequate international financial safety-net for short-term liquidity crises, many developing countries, especially in Asia, have been accumulating foreign reserves for ‘self-insurance’, or more accurately, protection against sudden capital outflows or speculative currency attacks which triggered the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis.

Foreign capital inflows falling
Less volatile than short-term capital flows, foreign direct investment (FDI) in developing countries was rising from 2000, peaking at US$474 billion in 2011. But since then, FDI has been falling to US$209 billion in 2016, less than half the US$431 billion in 2015.

Most FDI to developing countries continues to go to Asia and Latin America, while falling commodity prices since 2014 have depressed FDI in resource rich Sub-Saharan and South American countries. Falling commodity prices are also likely to reduce FDI flows to least developed countries (LDCs), which need resource transfers most, but only receive a small positive net transfer of resources.

Bank lending to developing countries has been declining since mid-2014, while long-term bank lending to developing countries has been stagnant since 2008. The latest Basel capital adequacy rules also raise the costs of both risky and long-term lending for investments.

Portfolio flows to developing countries have also turned negative in recent years. Developing countries and economies in transition experienced net outflows of US$425 billion in 2015 and US$217 billion in 2016. The expected US interest rate rise and poorer growth prospects in developing countries are likely to cause further short-term capital outflows and greater exchange rate volatility.

Aid trends disappointing
Although aid flows have increased, aid’s share of GDP has declined after 2009. The recent increase has been more than offset by counting expenditure on refugees from developing countries as aid. When refugee expenditures are excluded from the aid numbers, the 6.9 per cent increase in 2015 falls to a meagre 1.7 per cent. In five DAC countries, aid numbers fell once refugee costs were omitted. Thus, WESP 2017 emphasizes the importance of decomposing aid components and of separately tracking country programmable aid (CPA).

At 0.30 per cent of the gross national income (GNI) of OECD DAC members, official aid falls far short of the 1970 commitment by developed countries to provide aid equivalent to 0.7 per cent of GNI. Only six OECD countries – namely Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom – met or exceeded the UN target in 2015. But aid to LDCs has been declining since 2010; even bilateral aid declined by 16 per cent in 2014.

Meanwhile, disbursements by multilateral development banks only increased marginally in 2015 while new commitments declined. Commitments by the World Bank’s concessional lending arm, the International Development Association (IDA), which relies on donor contributions to provide concessional credits and grants to low-income countries, declined in real terms during 2014-2015.

Reversing resource outflows
Developing countries also lost an estimated US$7.8 trillion in illicit financial flows (IFFs) between 2004 and 2013 through tax avoidance, transfer-pricing, trade mis-invoicing and profit shifting by transnational corporations (TNCs). Over the past decade, IFFs were often greater than combined aid and FDI flows to poor countries.

Hence, WESP 2017 calls for a complete revamp of the international financial system to address these development finance issues and ensure needed resource transfers to developing countries. Failing to do so will put the SDGs at risk.

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