So-called free-trade agreements (FTAs) are generally presumed to promote trade liberalization, but in fact, they do much more to strengthen the power of the most influential transnational corporations of the dominant partner involved. While FTAs typically reduce some barriers to the international trade in goods and services, some provisions strengthen private monopolies and corporate power.
President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.
Without any hint of irony, the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business Report 2017 promises ‘Equal Opportunity for All’. Bangladesh ranked 176th among 190 economies, below civil war-ravaged Iraq and Syria! Bangladesh even slipped two places from 174 in the 2016 ranking and is three places below its 2015 ranking.
The World Bank’s Doing Business
Report 2017, subtitled ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, continues to mislead despite the many criticisms, including from within, levelled against the Bank’s most widely read publication, and Bank management promises of reform for many years.
Privatization of SOEs has been a cornerstone of the neo-liberal counterrevolution that swept the world from the 1980s following the economic crisis brought about by US Fed’s sharp hike in interest rates. Developing countries, seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, often had to commit to privatization as a condition for credit support.
The new US census data released in late September show that 3.5 million people in the US climbed out of poverty, as the tepid economic recovery continues. Employers are finally creating more jobs and paying higher wages than seven years after the Great Recession started following the 2008 financial crisis.
The debt crisis in Europe continues to drag on. Drastic measures to cut government debts and deficits, including by replacing democratically elected governments with ‘technocrats’, have only made things worse. The more recent drastic expenditure cuts in Europe to quickly reduce public finance deficits have not only adversely impacted the lives of millions as unemployment soared. The actions also seem to have killed the goose that lay the golden egg of economic growth, resulting in a ‘low growth’ debt trap.
Global economic recovery is being held hostage by the ideological dogma of the last three and a half decades. After long contributing to neo-liberal conventional wisdom, in its October 2015 World Economic Outlook
, the IMF identified the vicious circle undermining global recovery and growth. Low aggregate demand is discouraging investment; slower expected potential growth itself dampens aggregate demand, further limiting investment.
Debt anxieties are not new, often fanned by political competition. But so is a double dip recession due to premature deficit reduction. For example, to seek re-election, President Roosevelt backed down from his New Deal in 1937, promising that “a balanced budget [was] on the way”. In 1938, he slashed government spending, and unemployment shot up to 19 per cent.
For over a decade, much of the international development community, led by the OECD and the World Bank, promoted ‘good governance’ as a pre-requisite for economic development and poverty eradication. Good governance became the explanation for the failure of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) to deliver economic growth and poverty reduction. The link between good governance and poverty eradication is premised on the presumption that good governance promotes economic growth and development. It was presumed that SAPs were good for growth and the poor.
In the wake of releasing the IMF’s latest assessment of the global economy, Chief Economist Maurice Obstfeld noted in his blog, “Global growth continues, but at an increasingly disappointing pace that leaves the world economy more exposed to negative risks. Growth has been too slow for too long.”
Many well-meaning people believe that “good governance” is key to inclusive development. But research claiming that “good governance” is essential for rapid growth suffers from serious methodological or conceptual limitations. Existing definitions are extremely broad, suffer from functionalist tautology, or mainly refer to corruption.
No wonder the Euro zone countries, including Germany, are witnessing growing protests against the severe austerity measures. The unemployment rate in the Euro zone has exceeded 12% with close to 20 million people, mostly young, without a job.