Inter Press ServiceJomo Kwame Sundaram – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 17 Nov 2017 16:42:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 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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Emerging Markets at Risk Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/emerging-markets-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-markets-risk http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/emerging-markets-risk/#respond Wed, 08 Nov 2017 06:59:41 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152932 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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Very rarely are the root causes of economic crises and vulnerability addressed. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 2017 (IPS)

Emerging market governments often draw lessons from previous financial crises – or at least claim to do so – to prevent their recurrence. However, such preventive measures are typically designed to address the causes of the last crisis, not the next one. Hence, some measures adopted may inadvertently become new sources of instability and crisis.

Very rarely are the root causes of crises and vulnerability addressed. In their efforts to prove themselves as worthy emerging markets, they tend to be pro-active in joining the financial globalization bandwagon. But premature financial liberalization – with hasty integration into the international financial system, typically without adequate prudential multilateral mechanisms for speedy and orderly resolution of external liquidity and debt crises – can be very dangerous and costly.

Future currency crises different
Many governments claim to have learnt from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crises and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. But while measures implemented may be effective in preventing recurrence, they may be inappropriate, inadequate or worse, even counterproductive with changing, deepening financial integration.

After mid-1997, Southeast Asian governments abandoned their informal currency pegs after incurring high costs trying to defend them. Moving to flexible exchange rates ended ‘one-way (sure-win) bets’ for some speculators, while entailing disruptive currency devaluations.

Since the crises, banking regulation and supervision have undoubtedly improved, e.g., reducing currency and maturity mismatches in bank balance sheets. However, in this day and age, stable exchange rates can no longer be ensured with unregulated capital mobility.

In fact, currency crises can occur with either fixed or flexible exchange rates. With flexible rates, inflows cause currency appreciations, encouraging even more inflows, which will inevitably be reversed, often quite abruptly.

Capital inflows into securities markets are far more important today than banks intermediating cross-border capital flows in the 1990s. Corporate bond issues have also grown much faster than international bank lending, whether directly or through local intermediaries. Yet, such measures have not prevented credit and asset price bubbles.

Emerging markets have further liberalized foreign direct investment (FDI) regimes and encouraged foreign participation in equity markets, presuming that equity liabilities are less risky than external debt. Hence, foreign shares of market capitalization have reached unprecedented levels, much higher than in the US. With emerging markets more susceptible, a little foreign investment can ‘make (emerging) markets’, causing large price swings.

Currency mismatches
East Asian authorities have also reduced currency mismatches in their own balance sheets and exchange rate risk exposure by opening domestic bond markets to foreigners and borrowing in their own currencies. Consequently, sovereign debt is now much more exposed to foreign creditors than in reserve currency countries.

Much higher shares of most emerging market sovereign bonds are held by foreigners, usually privately, rather than by central banks. In contrast, most of Japan’s very high sovereign debt is held by Japanese creditors while around a third of US Treasury bonds are held by non-residents.

Encouraging foreign participation in sovereign bond markets has helped pass currency risk to creditors, but also reduced autonomy over long-term rates and increased exposure to interest rate shocks from abroad, e.g., when the US Fed raises interest rates again.

Greater capital account liberalization besides encouraging domestic corporations to borrow from and invest abroad have resulted in massive debt accumulation in low interest rate reserve currencies, especially with recent ‘unconventional’ monetary policies. Thus, reducing sovereign debt currency mismatches has been offset by increased private corporate fragility due to greater exchange rate risks.

Regulatory constraints on resident individuals and institutional investors purchasing foreign securities and real estate have also been relaxed. Capital account liberalization has enabled resident capital outflows claiming these will ‘balance’ foreign inflows. But such private accumulation of foreign assets will not be available to national authorities in case of panicky capital flight.

Hence, national currencies are especially vulnerable when the capital account is open and foreign control of domestic financial assets is significant. As experience has shown, macro-financial volatility may suddenly precipitate massive outflows.

Self-insurance delusion
Since the turn of the century, emerging markets have been seeking ‘self-insurance’ in managing external balances by accumulating ‘adequate’ international reserves from trade surpluses and capital inflows. Hence, foreign reserves in most East Asian countries are often enough to meet conventional external liabilities, but not enough to cope with massive reversals of foreign portfolio investments and capital flight by residents.

Despite the crises of the last two decades, emerging markets’ capital accounts are much freer now than then. Asset markets and currencies of all East Asian emerging markets with ‘enough’ foreign reserves have nevertheless been shaken several times in the past decade.

But such short-lived instability episodes did not cause severe damage as they only involved temporary shifts in market sentiments. Nevertheless, they hint at likely threats when ‘quantitative easing’ in the North could be reversed soon.

As ‘self-insurance’ is probably insufficient to cope with massive capital flight, the usual option is to ‘seek help’ from the IMF and reserve-currency countries. Another involves ‘bailing in’ international creditors and investors using foreign exchange controls, temporary ‘debt standstills’ and other measures to protect jobs and the economy.

But such unilateral measures may be difficult and costly due to resistance from creditor country governments, acting at the behest of the powerful financial interests involved.

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Mounting Illicit Financial Outflows from Southhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/mounting-illicit-financial-outflows-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mounting-illicit-financial-outflows-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/mounting-illicit-financial-outflows-south/#respond Tue, 31 Oct 2017 15:25:02 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Zera Zuryana Idris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152831 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Zera Zuryana Idris are Malaysian economic researchers.

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The latest Global Financial Integrity report shows that illicit financial outflows from developing countries continue to grow rapidly. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Zera Zuryana Idris
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 2017 (IPS)

Although quite selective, targeted, edited and carefully managed, last year’s Panama Papers highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, such as tax evasion and avoidance. The latest Global Financial Integrity (GFI) report shows that illicit financial outflows (IFFs) from developing countries, already at alarming levels, continue to grow rapidly.

Illicit financial flows growing rapidly
With international financial liberalization enabling investments abroad, ‘legitimate outflows’ have also been growing rapidly, heightening macro-financial risks to countries. Many of today’s financial centres compete intensely to attract customers by offering lower tax rates and banking secrecy.

It is generally presumed that IFFs are related to tax evasion and corruption. Such financial flows largely involve financial service providers, law offices and companies with transnational activities, often involving investments in real estate and other assets worth billions. Besides enabling governments and legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies have been crucial.

The GFI report estimates that developing countries lost somewhere between $620 billion (bn) and $970 bn in illicit outflows in 2014. The Washington-based think tank found IFFs from the South to be 4.2-6.6% of total developing country trade for 2014, while inflows were 9.5-17.4%. Total IFFs of all developing countries in 2014 were estimated at $2,010-3,507 bn.

Illicit financial flows of all developing countries, 2004-2013

During 2005-2014, IFFs from the South were 4.6-7.2% of developing countries’ total trade, while such inflows were 9.5-16.8%. GFI attributes about 3.3% of IFFs over this period to fraudulent trade mis-invoicing or ‘transfer pricing’.

China, Russia, Mexico, India and Malaysia lead all countries in illicit capital flight. Since 2012, emerging and developing countries have lost over a trillion dollars yearly that could invested productively in industry, agriculture, healthcare, education, or infrastructure.

Methodological doubts

GFI estimates have been criticized, e.g., for making unrealistic assumptions about trade-related transport costs and ignoring other explanations for ‘errors’. For instance, estimated GFI outflows include IFFs and trade mis-invoicing estimated from inconsistencies in trade data.

For GFI, ‘leakages’ (errors and omissions) in the balance of payments (BoP) are a type of IFFs. It assumes that all unreported leakages in inflows and outflows of a country are illicit. While long associated with capital flight, such BoP leakages may include legitimate reporting errors, as the report recognizes. But as such leakages only account for a small fraction of total IFFs estimated by GFI, they are not likely to appreciably affect overall estimates.

Criminal activities
IFFs in developing countries may also be due to transnational criminal activities, which GFI estimates globally for 2014 as follows: counterfeiting ($923-1,130 bn), drug trafficking ($426-652 bn), illegal logging, ($52-157 bn), human trafficking ($150.2 bn), illegal mining ($12-48 bn), illegal fishing ($15.5-36.4 bn), illegal wildlife trade ($5-23 bn), crude oil theft ($5.2-11.9 bn), small arms and light weapons trafficking ($1.7-3.5 bn), organ trafficking ($840m-1.7 bn), trafficking in cultural property ($1.2-1.6 bn), totalling $1.6-2.2 trillion.

‘Legitimate outflows’ have also increased rapidly in recent years. Besides the decades-old promotion of tax exemption for ‘free trade’ or export-processing zones, some emerging market economies have recently promoted and enabled outward foreign direct and portfolio investments.

Such capital outflows are said to balance portfolio investment inflows increasing foreign ownership of emerging market economies’ corporate sectors. But such ‘balancing’ provides no protection in the event of financial panic and a rush to exit. The push for ever greater financial liberalization thus exposes them to greater fragility and vulnerability.

Participating in such a ‘race to the bottom’ by offering tax loopholes typically involves making ever more concessions to the rich and powerful. Rich countries have been quite selective in administering anti-bribery rules, and rarely take effective action, e.g., to prevent anonymous companies being abused, as highlighted by last year’s Panama Papers revelations.

International cooperation needed
The nature and scale of illicit flows mean that international cooperation is urgently needed. While progress has been slow at the United Nations, the cooperation of the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions will be vital for progress. If not, rich countries will continue to ‘call the shots’ through the OECD ‘rich country club’, which has been dominant on international tax matters.

Peak national authorities should work closely with different bodies like the central bank, tax revenue authorities, customs authorities and police to enhance tax collection, increase government transparency, improve natural resource control by government, and enable public scrutiny of revenues and other public accounts.

Such efforts will require more evidence and modes of investigation, as well as the cooperation of all relevant parties. Ultimately, political will, especially to take on powerful vested interests, will make the difference.

Further international financial integration after the 1997-1998 Asian financial crises and the 2007-2009 global financial crisis has resulted not only in fast growing financial outflows from the South, but also in greater vulnerability to new sources of volatility and instability.

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Why 1997 Asian Crisis Lessons Losthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/1997-asian-crisis-lessons-lost-2/#comments Tue, 24 Oct 2017 17:10:28 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152689 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 initial response to the East-Asian crises was to blame poor macroeconomic and fiscal policies. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

Various different, and sometimes contradictory lessons have been drawn from the 1997-1998 East Asian crises. Rapid or V-shaped recoveries and renewed growth in most developing countries in the new century also served to postpone the urgency of far-reaching reforms. The crises’ complex ideological, political and policy implications have also made it difficult to draw lessons from the crises.

Conventional wisdom
The conventional wisdom was to blame the crisis on bad economic policies pursued by the governments concerned. Of course, the vested interests favouring the international financial status quo or further liberalization also impede implementing needed reforms. Such interests continue to be supported by the media.

Citing currency crisis theory, the initial response to the crises was to blame poor macroeconomic, especially fiscal policies, although most East Asian economies had been maintaining budgetary surpluses for some years. Nevertheless, the IMF and others, including the international business media, urged spending cuts and other pro-cyclical policies (e.g., raising interest rates) which worsened the downturns.

Such policies were adopted in much of the region from late 1997, precipitating sharper economic collapses. By the second quarter of 1998, however, it was increasingly recognized that these policies had worsened, rather than reversed the economic deterioration, transforming currency and financial crises into crises of the real economy.

By early 1998, however, as macroeconomic orthodoxy lost credibility, the blame shifted to political economy, condemning ‘cronyism’ as the cause. US Federal Reserve Bank chair Alan Greenspan, US Treasury Deputy Secretary Lawrence Summers and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus formed a chorus criticizing Asian corporate governance in quick sequence over a month from late January.

The dubious conventional explanations of the Asian crises were not shared by more independently minded mainstream economists with less ideological prejudices. The World Bank’s chief economist Joseph Stiglitz and other prominent Western economists such as Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs supported Keynesian counter-cyclical policies.

Regional contagion and response
The transformation of the region’s financial systems from the late 1980s had made their economies much more vulnerable and fragile. Rapid economic growth and financial liberalization attracted massive, but easily reversible, footloose capital inflows.

New regulations encouraged short-term lending, typically ‘rolled over’ in good times. Much of these came from Japanese and continental European banks as UK and US banks continued to recover from the 1980s’ sovereign debt crises. But these gradual inflows suddenly became massive outflows when the crisis began.

Significant inflows were also attracted by stock market and other asset price bubbles. The herd behaviour characteristic of capital markets exacerbated pro-cyclical market behaviour, heightening panic during downturns. Fickle market behaviour also exacerbated contagion, worsening regional neighbourhood effects.

Japan’s offer of US$100 billion to manage the crisis in the third quarter of 1997 was quickly stymied by the US and the IMF. Instead, a more modest amount was made available under the Miyazawa Plan to finance more modest facilities, institutions and instruments.

Much later, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the region’s finance ministers approved a series of bilateral credit lines or swap facilities, conditional on IMF approval. Many years later, the finance ministers of Japan, China and South Korea ensured that these arrangements were regionalized, and no longer simply the aggregation of bilateral commitments, while increasing the size of the credit facility.

New International Financial Architecture
A year after the crisis began in July 1997, US President Clinton called for a new international financial architecture. The apparent spread of the Asian crisis to Brazil and Russia underscored that contagion could be more than regional.

The collapse of Long-Term Capital Management (LTCM) following the Russian crisis led the US Federal Reserve to intervene in the market to coordinate a private sector bailout. This legitimized government interventions to ensure functioning financial systems and sufficient liquidity to finance economic recovery.

After the US Fed lowered interest rates, capital flowed to East Asia once again. The Malaysian government’s establishment of bailout institutions and mechanisms in mid-1998 and its capital controls on outflows from September 1998 also warned that other countries might go their own way.

Ironically, the economic recoveries in the region from late 1998 weakened the resolve to reform the international financial system. Talk of a new international financial architecture began to fade as recovery was presented as proof of international financial system resilience.

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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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Greater Cooperation To Strengthen Taxationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/greater-cooperation-strengthen-taxation/#respond Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:25:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152323 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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Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 3 2017 (IPS)

Since the 1950s, there has been a popular dance called the ‘limbo rock’, with the winner leaning back as much as possible to get under the bar. Many of today’s financial centres are involved in a similar game to attract customers by offering low tax rates and banking secrecy.

How Low Can You Go?
This has, in turn, forced many governments to lower direct taxes not only on income, but also on wealth. From the early 1980s, this was dignified by US President Ronald Reagan’s embrace of Professor Arthur Laffer’s curve which claimed higher savings, investments and growth with less taxes.

Following a long hiatus, Laffer is now making a comeback with the recent election of Donald Trump who has espoused a similar claim that lower taxes will lead to higher growth, lifting all American boats. It remains to be seen how President Trump will reconcile this with his promise to build and improve infrastructure in the US, which many hope will finally create the basis for the long awaited recovery following the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

With the decline of government revenue from direct taxes, especially income tax, following Laffer’s advice, many governments were forced to cut spending, often by reducing public services, raising user-fees and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Beyond a point, there seemed to be little room left for further cuts, while governments had to raise revenue to fund its functions.

Regression
This increasingly came from indirect taxes, especially on consumption, as trade taxes declined with trade liberalization. Many countries have since adopted value added taxation (VAT), touted in recent decades by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others as the superior form of taxation: after all, once the VAT system is functioning, raising rates is relatively easy.

Instead, a progressive tax system would seek to ensure that those with more ability to do so, would pay proportionately more tax than those with less ability to do so. Instead, tax systems have become increasingly regressive, with the growing middle class bearing the main tax burden.

Meanwhile, tax competition among developing countries has not only reduced tax revenue, but also made direct taxation less progressive, while the growth of VAT has made the overall impact of taxation more regressive as the rich pay proportionately less tax with all the loopholes available to them, both nationally and abroad. Although there are many reasons for income inequality, untaxed assets have undoubtedly also increased both wealth and income inequalities at both national and international levels.

After Panama

Following the Panama revelations, most Western government leaders have pledged tough action against tax evasion and avoidance, especially by those using developing country tax havens. In the face of continued failure to deliver on the almost half-century old United Nations commitment to provide aid to developing countries equivalent to 0.7 per cent of their national incomes, then OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) chair, Erik Solheim, proposed greater tax cooperation instead.

After all, many developing countries are not devoid of financial assets, but so much has been taken out and hidden by wealthy elites in private financial institutions, especially in ‘offshore’ tax havens.

But since most using tax havens seek assets in OECD countries, the Paris-based organization has historically focused efforts on very limited matters of concern to their members. Hence, they have blocked efforts to give the UN a stronger mandate to advance international cooperation on taxation, culminating in the modest Addis Ababa Action Agenda declared at the third UN Financing for Development conference in July 2015.

As major users of such facilities themselves, many developing country elites have been conspicuously silent in the face of the Panama revelations of what they have long enabled and practiced. After all, much of what is involved is publicly considered illicit, immoral, and even ‘sinful’, even if not illegal. As Warren Buffett and the group of ‘patriotic millionaires’ in the US have noted, the rich currently pay less in tax than most of their lowest paid employees.

Reversing the slide
Many tax avoidance schemes are not illegal. But just because it is not illegal does not mean it is not a form of abuse, fraud or corruption. To tackle the corruption at the heart of the global financial system, tax havens need to be shut down, not reformed. ‘On-shoring’ such funds, without prohibiting legitimate investments abroad, will ensure that future investment income will be subject to tax as in the US and Canada.

If not compromised by influential interests benefiting from such flows, responsible governments should seek to enact policies to:
• Detect and deter cross-border tax evasion;
• Improve transparency of transnational corporations;
• Curtail trade mis-invoicing;
• Strengthen anti-money laundering laws and enforcement; and
• Eliminate anonymous shell companies.

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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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UN Role in Reforming International Finance for Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-role-reforming-international-finance-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-role-reforming-international-finance-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-role-reforming-international-finance-development/#respond Wed, 30 Aug 2017 09:31:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151841 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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United Nations Secretariat Building

United Nations Secretariat Building

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 30 2017 (IPS)

Growing global interdependence poses greater challenges to policy makers on a wide range of issues and for countries at all levels of development. Yet, the new mechanisms and arrangements put in place over the past four decades have not been adequate to the growing challenges of coherence and coordination of global economic policy making. Recent financial crises have exposed some such gaps and weaknesses.

 

Multilateral UN inclusive

Although sometimes seemingly slow, the United Nations (UN) has long had a clear advantage in driving legitimate discussion on reform because of its more inclusive and open governance. Lop-sided influence in the current international financial system is a principal reason why many countries lack confidence in existing arrangements. Rebuilding confidence in such arrangements will require that all parties feel they have a stake in the reform agenda.

The UN Secretariat has a strong track record of identifying systemic threats from unregulated finance, warning against a misplaced faith in self-regulating markets and offering viable solutions to gaps and weaknesses in the international financial system
But the UN is also suited to drive the discussion because of its long tradition of reliable work on international economic issues. The UN secretariat has developed and maintained a coherent and integrated approach to trade, finance and sustainable development, with due attention to equity and social justice issues.

The ongoing ‘secular stagnation’ has again highlighted the interdependence of global economic relations, exposing a series of myths and half-truths about the global economy. These include the idea that the developing world has become “decoupled” from the developed world; that unregulated financial markets and the new financial instruments had ushered in a new era of “great moderation” and “stability”; and that macroeconomic imbalances — due to decisions made in the household, corporate and financial sectors — were less dangerous than those involving the public sector.

 

UN Secretariat different, but competent

The UN secretariat has long doubted such arguments, and warned that any unravelling of global macroeconomic imbalances would be unruly. Also, persistent asymmetries and biases in global economic relations have particularly hit developing countries, both emerging markets and the least developed countries.

Not surprisingly, the UN Secretariat also drew attention to the close links between the financial crisis and the food and energy crises of recent years. A more integrated approach to handling these threats is needed, particularly to alleviate the downside risks for the poorest and most vulnerable communities.

The UN Secretariat has a strong track record of identifying systemic threats from unregulated finance, warning against a misplaced faith in self-regulating markets and offering viable solutions to gaps and weaknesses in the international financial system. Special drawing rights (SDRs), the 0.7 per cent aid target and debt relief, for example, were all conceived within the UN system during the 1960s and 1970s.

From the 1980s, the UN secretariat – both in New York and Geneva — has consistently warned against the excessive conditionalities attached to multilateral lending, promoted the idea of rules for sovereign debt restructuring, and cautioned that the international financial institutions were moving away from their traditional mandates of guaranteeing financial stability and providing long-term development finance.

 

UN has more than earned leadership role

During the 1990s, UN agencies warned against the dangers to economic stability, particularly in developing countries, from volatile private capital flows and the speculative behaviour associated with unregulated financial markets. The UN was among the very few warning Mexico in 1994, the East Asian countries in 1997 and the world in 2008 that excessive liberalization threatened crisis. The UN system was also almost alone among international institutions to identify growing inequality as a threat to economic, political and social stability, and insisted early on measures for a fairer globalisation.

Many of these concerns culminated in the 2002 Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico. More recently, the UN has insisted on the importance of policy space for effective development strategies and particularly on the need for macroeconomic policies to support long-term growth, technological upgrading and diversification.

The combination of a strong track record and a core secretariat steeped in its tradition of an integrated multilateral approach to policy-oriented research places the UN in the best position to advance discussions to reform the international financial architecture if given the chance to do so.

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Quantitative Easing for Wealth Redistributionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/quantitative-easing-for-wealth-redistribution/#respond Tue, 22 Aug 2017 08:51:10 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151760 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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Quantitative Easing for Wealth Redistribution - A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon, Myanmar. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 22 2017 (IPS)

Following the 2007-2008 global financial crisis and the Great Recession in its wake, the ‘new normal’ in monetary policy has been abnormal. At the heart of the unconventional monetary policies adopted have been ‘asset purchase’ or ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) programmes. Ostensibly needed for economic revival, QE has redistributed wealth – regressively, in favour of the rich.

As its failure to revive most economies becomes apparent, and opposition to growing inequality rises, QE may soon end, judging by recent announcements of some major central banks. Already, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have been phasing out purchases of financial assets, while the European Central Bank (ECB) is publicly considering how quickly to do so from December. Meanwhile, these monetary authorities are considering raising interest rates again.

Evaluated by its own declared objectives, QE has been a failure. Forbes magazine, the self-avowed ‘capitalist tool’, has acknowledged that QE has “largely failed in reviving economic growth”. By ‘injecting’ money into the economy, QE was supposed to induce banks to lend more, thus boosting investment and growth. But in fact, overall bank lending fell after QE was introduced in the UK, with lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) – responsible for most employment – falling sharply.

Bank failure to finance productive investments was not because corporations were short of cash as they have considerable reserves. Instead, the problem is due to under-consumption or overproduction, exacerbated by protracted stagnation and worsening inequality. After all, producing more when demand is soft or shrinking only leads to excess supply or gluts.

 

QE’s regressive wealth distribution

But QE has transferred wealth and income to the rich in the guise of reviving the world economy. New money created by QE was not invested in new productive activities, but instead mainly flowed into stock markets and real estate, pushing up share and property prices, without generating jobs or prosperity. QE has enriched asset owners, increasing the wealth of the rich, while not generating real wealth.

By effectively devaluing currency, QE has diminished money’s buying power, thus reducing real incomes. However, first-time or new asset purchasers lose, having to spend more to buy more expensive assets such as shares or real property. While increased asset prices have to be paid by purchasers, the additional cost to existing asset owners is partially compensated for by higher prices received for assets sold.

Thus, the claim that QE would encourage investment as well as boost growth and employment has disguised the massive redistribution or wealth transfer to the rich. QE, especially in the US and UK, has seen real wages fall as profits rose. While output may have recovered, real wages have been generally lower.

 

In the South too

QE has had similar effects in the global South, enriching asset owners at the expense of the ‘asset-poor’, while making their economies more vulnerable. QE also caused housing, stock market and commodity price bubbles as speculators rushed to buy up such assets. Until petrol prices fell in late 2014, oil-exporting countries enjoyed cash windfalls, at the expense of oil-importing countries, sometimes with devastating consequences, even if only temporary.

QE triggered huge capital flows into the developing world. Around 40 percent of the US Fed’s first QE credit expansion and a third from QE2 went abroad, mostly to ‘emerging markets’. Much of this went into buying existing assets, rather than into productive new investments. And if their currencies strengthened, their exports were undermined.

On the other hand, QE also exacerbated competitive currency devaluations. By reducing the value of their own currencies, ‘reserve currency’ monetary authorities effectively caused other currencies to appreciate, damaging their exports and trade balances.

 

Be prepared

Unlike productive long-term investments, ‘hot money’ inflows of speculative capital worsen currency volatility. Rising interest rates in the West are likely to trigger a mass exodus of capital from emerging markets, potentially triggering currency collapses in emerging markets again, as in mid-1997.

With various recent developments conspiring to reverse the last several years of unconventional monetary policies in the North, emerging markets and other developing economies are generally poorly prepared for the forthcoming change in circumstances.

While policy options in different scenarios are already being publicly considered in the Western reserve currency economies, an ostrich-like approach of not discussing and preparing for such changes is much more widespread in other economies, with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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Leadership Failure Perpetuates Stagnationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/leadership-failure-perpetuates-stagnation/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 16:33:34 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151629 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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Growing income inequality in most countries before the Great Recession has only made things worse, by reducing consumer demand and household savings, and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR , Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

What kind of leadership does the world need now? US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s leadership was undoubtedly extraordinary. His New Deal flew in the face of the contemporary economic orthodoxy, begun even before Keynes’ General Theory was published in 1936.

Roosevelt’s legacy also includes creating the United Nations in 1945, after acknowledging the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the Second World War. He also insisted on ‘inclusive multilateralism’ – which Churchill opposed, preferring a bilateral US-UK deal instead – by convening the 1944 United Nations Conference on Monetary and Financial Affairs at Bretton Woods with many developing countries and the Soviet Union.

The international financial institutions created at Bretton Woods were set up to ensure, not only international monetary and financial stability, but also the conditions for sustained growth, employment generation, post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development.

Debt bogey
In resisting painfully obvious measures, the current favourite bogey is public debt. Debt has been the pretext for the ongoing fiscal austerity in Europe, which effectively reversed earlier recovery efforts in 2009. With private sector demand weak, budgetary austerity is slowing, not accelerating recovery.

Much has been made of sovereign debt on both sides of the north Atlantic and in Japan. In fact, US debt interest payments come to only 1.4 percent of annual output, while Japan’s very high debt-GDP ratio is not considered a serious problem as its debt is largely domestically held. And, as is now well known, the major problems of European debt are due to the specific problems of different national economies integrated sub-optimally into the Eurozone.

The international community has, so far, failed to develop effective and equitable debt workout, including restructuring arrangements, despite the clearly dysfunctional and problematic international consequences of past sovereign debt crises. The failure to agree to sovereign debt workout arrangements will continue to prevent timely debt workouts when needed, thus effectively impeding recovery as well.

Meanwhile, earlier international, including US tolerance of the Argentine debt workout of a decade and a half ago had given hope of making progress on this front. However, this has now been undermined by the Macri government’s recent concession, on worse terms and conditions than previously negotiated, to ‘vulture capitalists’.

Golden cages of the mind
Most major deficits now are due to the collapse of tax revenues following the growth downturn and costly financial bailouts. Slower growth means less revenue, and a faster downward spiral. While insisting on fiscal deficit reduction, financial markets also recognize the adverse growth implications of such ‘fiscal consolidation’.

Many policymakers are now insisting on immediate actions to rectify various imbalances, pointing not only to fiscal deficits, but also to trade and bank imbalances. While these undoubtedly need to be addressed in the longer term, prioritizing them now effectively blocks stronger, sustained recovery efforts.

Recent recessionary financial crises have been caused by bursting credit and asset bubbles. Recessions have also been deliberately induced by public policy, such as the US Fed raising real interest rates from 1980. Internationally, this contributed not only to sovereign debt and fiscal crises, but also to protracted stagnation outside East Asia, including Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ and Africa’s ‘quarter century retreat’.

Yet another distraction is exaggerating the threat of inflation. Much recent inflation in many countries has been due to higher international commodity, especially fuel and food prices. Domestic deflationary policies in response only slowed growth while failing to stem imported inflation. In any case, the collapse of most commodity prices since 2014 has rendered this bogey irrelevant.

Market vs recovery
Strident recent calls for structural reforms mainly target labour markets, rather than product markets. Labour market liberalization in such circumstances not only undermines worker protections, but is also likely to diminish real incomes, aggregate demand and, hence, recovery prospects. Nevertheless, these have become today’s priorities, detracting from the urgent need to coordinate and implement strong and sustained efforts to raise and sustain growth and job creation.

Meanwhile, cuts in social and welfare spending are only making things worse – as employment and consumer demand fall further. In recent decades, profits and rents have risen at the expense of wages, but also with much more accruing to finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) compared to other sectors.

The outrageous increases in financial executive remuneration in recent years, which cannot be attributed to increased productivity by any stretch of the imagination, have exacerbated problems of financial sector short-termism. Regulations are urgently needed to limit short-termism, including the ability of corporations to reap greater profits in the short-term while worsening risk exposure in the longer term, thus exacerbating systemic macro-financial vulnerability.

Growing income inequality in most countries before the Great Recession has only made things worse, by reducing consumer demand and household savings, and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases – instead of augmenting investments in new economic capacities and capabilities.

Reform bias
Current policy is justified in terms of ‘pro-market’ – effectively pro-cyclical – choices when counter-cyclical efforts, institutions and instruments are sorely needed instead. Unfortunately, global leadership today seems held to ransom by financial interests, and associated media, ideology and ‘oligarchs’ whose political influence enables them to secure more rents and pay less taxes in what must truly be the most vicious of circles.

John Hobson – the English liberal economist in the tradition of John Stuart Mill – noted that ‘economic imperialism’ emerged from the inherent tendency for economic power to concentrate and the related influence of oligopolistic rentiers on public policy. Selective state interventions to bail out and protect such interests nationally and internationally, while not subjecting them to regulation in the national interest, must surely remind us of the dangers of powerful, but unaccountable oligarchies in a systemically unstable market economy and politically volatile societies.

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UN Analytical Leadership in Addressing Global Economic Challengeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-analytical-leadership-addressing-global-economic-challenges/#respond Thu, 03 Aug 2017 07:42:45 +0000 Jose Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151552 José Antonio Ocampo was Executive Secretary of the UN-ECLAC from 1998 to 2003 and UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs from 2003 to 2007. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development from 2005 to 2015.

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International solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Credit: Jenny Lopez-Zapata/IPS

By José Antonio Ocampo and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 3 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations recently released the 70th anniversary issue of its flagship publication, the World Economic and Social Survey (WESS). First published in January 1948 as the World Economic Report, it is the oldest continuous publication analyzing international economic and social challenges. The 2017 issue reviews 70 years of WESS policy recommendations, many of which remain relevant today to address global challenges and to achieve the 2030 Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals.

Created in 1945 to ensure world peace, the United Nations charter recognized that economic and social progress for all is fundamental for ensuring sustainable peace. The UN has thus been monitoring socio-economic developments globally since the 1940s. Its analyses have long highlighted the interdependence of the global economy, and advocated international policy coherence and coordination for sustainable, inclusive and balanced socio-economic progress.

The picture which emerges is that the UN has been ahead of the curve on many issues, especially on closing gaps in human well-being between and within countries. From early on, it has urged developed countries to support socio-economic progress in developing countries, not only in their own interest as trading partners, but also to maintain conditions for greater economic stability and more equitable global development. It has also long called for predictable transfers of finance and technology to developing countries, and for opening up developed country markets to developing countries’ exports.

The UN has also pioneered innovative multilateral institution building to fill lacunae. In the 1960s, WESS provided the analytical rationale for establishing the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) to support developing countries seeking to equitably benefit from international trade and investment, and to industrialize.

The 2017 review of issues WESS has underscored the importance of its analyses. The 1951-52 issue identified three major challenges: “maintenance of economic stability, those concerned with persistent disequilibrium in international payments, and those arising from the relatively slow advance of the under-developed countries”. Needless to say, these challenges remain relevant today.

The 1956 issue warned against monetarism and monetary policy solutions, arguing that “a single economic policy seems no more likely to overcome all sources of imbalance … than is a single medicine likely to cure all diseases”. Along these lines, the 1959 issue acknowledged the “evils of large-scale inflation”, but argued that “economic stagnation or large-scale unemployment is not an acceptable cost to pay for price stability or equilibrium in the balance of payments”.

The 1965 issue warned that tying aid would reduce aid effectiveness, external debt burdens were rising rapidly, and capital would flow from developing to developed countries.

The 1971 issue warned of the “unsettling effects of massive movements of short-term capital” and argued for an “international code of conduct and mechanism for surveillance” to curb their disruptive effects. It also warned that IMF governance arrangements dangerously limited developing country voice, and called for Special Drawing Rights to be used to provide development finance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, WESS repeatedly warned that putting the burden of adjustment on deficit countries alone would not only stifle their growth, but also exert deflationary pressure on the world economy. The UN urged provision of additional finance by surplus countries and international financial institutions on less stringent terms and conditions to support robust recoveries and prevent widespread welfare losses.

The 1982 issue warned against the reluctance to undertake expansionary policies at a time of a global crisis for fear of undermining investor confidence: “without more vigorous expansionary policies, recovery will lack strength, levels of demand will not be sufficient to bring present productive capacity into full use, and the incentive to undertake new investment will remain weak”.

WESS’s rich legacy reminds us of the continuing relevance of multilateral institutions, especially in facing major challenges. The global economy needs strong institutions and coordinated international actions, with adequate voice and participation by developing countries. This is particularly true for ensuring international monetary stability and trade dynamism, which remain crucial for global development.

It also underscores that international solidarity is necessary for reinvigorating and rebuilding the global economy as well as inclusive and equitable development. Sustainable development is necessarily multidimensional and often context-specific; requiring strengthened state capacities and capabilities, strategic development planning and appropriate adaptation to local conditions.

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Alcoholism Cannot Explain Russian Mortality Spikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/alcoholism-cannot-explain-russian-mortality-spike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alcoholism-cannot-explain-russian-mortality-spike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/alcoholism-cannot-explain-russian-mortality-spike/#respond Tue, 25 Jul 2017 14:42:49 +0000 Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151424 Vladimir Popov was a Senior Economics Officer in the United Nations Secretariat. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development.

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In Russia, the simultaneous increase in the total death rate, deaths due to external causes, and alcohol consumption were all driven by stress. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS

By Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
MOSCOW and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 25 2017 (IPS)

The steep upsurge in mortality and sudden fall in life expectancy in Russia in the early 1990s were the highest ever registered anywhere in recorded human history in the absence of catastrophes, such as wars, plague or famine. The shock economic reforms in the former Soviet economies after 1991 precipitated this unprecedented increase in mortality, shortening life expectancy, especially among middle-aged males.

Shock therapy
During 1987-1994, the Russian mortality rate increased by more than half, from 1.0% to 1.6%, as life expectancy fell from 70 to 64 years! Economic output fell by almost half during 1989-1998 as wealth and income inequalities as well as crime, murder and suicide rates soared.

The dramatic increase in mortality – most pronounced for middle-aged men, mostly due to cardiovascular diseases – has been explained in terms of various factors like falling real incomes, poorer nutrition, environmental degradation, the collapse of Soviet health care, and surges in alcoholism and smoking.

However, dietary changes – less meat and dairy products, yet more bread and potatoes – could not have quickly increased cardiovascular diseases.

Deterioration of health care, smoking and changes in diet would require much more time to increase mortality by so much, while increased pollution is not an acceptable explanation due to the collapse of industrial output.

While deterioration of the Russian diet, the collapse of its health care system as well as increased deaths due to accidents, murders and suicides undoubtedly contributed to increased mortality in Russia, they cannot explain the sudden magnitude of the increase. This leaves two major competing explanations for the mortality crisis – either increased alcohol consumption or heightened stress factors.

Alcoholism

The major explanation popular in the West, as it absolves the West of responsibility, attributes the mortality spike to increased alcohol consumption in the late 1980s and early 1990s after Gorbachev’s anti-alcoholism campaign.

Deaths due to alcohol poisoning are generally considered a better indicator of actual alcohol consumption as some alcohol consumed is produced illegally or smuggled into the country. Such deaths per 100,000 inhabitants increased from 10 in 1990-1991 to nearly 40 in 1994, exceeding the number of deaths due to suicide and murders.

The increased intake of alcohol can, in turn, be attributed to the lower prices of spirits in the early 1990s. But this alcohol explanation does not stand up to critical scrutiny. After all, as with most other goods, demand for alcohol is inversely related to price and positively to personal income and spending capacity.

First, during some periods, per capita alcohol consumption and death rates moved in opposite directions, e.g., alcohol consumption rose or remained stable during 2002-2009, while death rates – also due to external causes, accidents, murders, suicides and poisoning – fell.

Second, per capita alcohol consumption levels in the 1990s were equal to or lower than in the early 1980s, whereas the total death rate increased by over half and deaths due to external causes doubled!

Although strongly correlated with the mortality rate, higher alcohol consumption was not an important independent cause, but also exacerbated by the same stress factors as the mortality rate itself.

The simultaneous increase in the total death rate, deaths due to external causes, and alcohol consumption were thus all driven by another factor, namely stress.

Stress
What were these sources of increased stress and why did they increase premature deaths? Stress factors due to the economic ‘shock therapy’ following the demise of the Soviet Union are associated with the rise in unemployment, labour mobility, migration, divorce, wealth, and income inequalities.

A stress index incorporating these variables turns out to be a surprisingly good predictor of changes in life expectancy in post-communist economies, especially in the Russian Federation.

The evidence shows that many men in their 40s and 50s – who had lost their jobs or had to move to another job and/or another region, or experienced increases in inequalities in their country/region, or had divorced their wives – were more likely to die prematurely in the 1990s.

To reiterate, the Russian mortality crisis of the 1990s was mainly due to the shock economic reforms that led to mass, especially labour dislocations, much greater personal and family economic insecurity and sharp increases in inequalities. The resulting dramatic rise in stress factors was therefore mostly responsible for the sharp rise in mortality.

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Early Death in Russiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/early-death-russia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=early-death-russia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/early-death-russia/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 16:09:37 +0000 Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151376 Vladimir Popov was a Senior Economics Officer in the United Nations Secretariat. Jomo Kwame Sundaram was UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development.

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The Russian mortality crisis underscores the impact of stress on life expectancy. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

By Vladimir Popov and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
MOSCOW and KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 20 2017 (IPS)

The transition to market economy and democracy in the Russian Federation in the early 1990s dramatically increased mortality and shortened life expectancy. The steep upsurge in mortality and the decline in life expectancy in Russia are the largest ever recorded anywhere in peacetime in the absence of catastrophes such as war, plague or famine.

During 1987-1994, the Russian mortality rate increased by 60%, from 1.0% to 1.6%, while life expectancy went down from 70 to 64 years. Although life expectancy declined from 1987, when Mikhail Gorbachev was still in charge, its fall was sharpest during 1991-1994, i.e., during Boris Yeltsin’s early years.

In fact, mortality increased to levels never observed during the 1950s to the 1980s, i.e., for at least four decades. Even in the last years of Stalin’s rule (1950-1953), mortality rates were nearly half what they were in the first half of the 1990s.

Economic output fell by 45% during 1989-1998, while negative social indicators, such as the crime rate, murder rate, suicide rate and income inequalities, rose sharply as well, but even these alone cannot adequately explain the unprecedented mortality spike.

Distress
This Russian mortality crisis underscores the impact of stress on life expectancy. Anne Case and Angus Deaton have linked deteriorating American white male real incomes to various distress indicators since the turn of the century. Their careful work helps us better understand the election of US President Trump, thanks to the electoral majorities he secured in the ‘rust belt’ states, so crucial in the American ‘electoral college’ system.

During the Enclosure movement and the Industrial Revolution in Britain from the 16th to the 18th century, mortality increased and life expectancy fell by about a decade – from about 40 to slightly over 30 – due to lifestyle changes, increased income inequalities and mass impoverishment.

Other instances of life expectancy reduction due to social changes – without wars, epidemics and natural disasters – are very few and never involved a fall in life expectancy by five years, from 69 to 64 years, in the three years from 1991 to 1994 for the entire population of a large country like Russia!

This dramatic fall has been obscured in much of the Western media coverage, although some academic research has been more accurate. Thus, the Economist implied that the fall was greater during Gorbachev’s final years (1987-1992) compared to Yeltsin’s early years (1992-1997).

Why premature death?
What kinds of stress did the transition induce, and why did they lead to premature death? Stress is correlated to the rise in unemployment, labour mobility, migration, divorce, and income inequalities.

These stress indicators turn out to be good predictors of changes in life expectancy in Russia during the ‘post-Soviet’ transition. Men in their forties and fifties who had lost their jobs, or had to move to another job and/or region, or lived in regions with greater inequality or higher divorce rates, were more likely to die prematurely in the 1990s.

The major popular alternative ‘explanation’ is increased alcoholism, which does not stand up to closer critical scrutiny for several reasons. First, during some periods, per capita alcohol consumption and death rates moved in opposite directions, e.g., during 2002-2007, death rates due to external causes – including murders, suicides and poisoning – fell as alcohol consumption rose.

Second, according to both official statistics and independent estimates, per capita alcohol consumption levels in the 1990s were equal to or lower than in the early 1980s, whereas death rates due to external causes doubled, and the total death rate increased by half. This simultaneous increase in indicators (total death rate, death rate due to external causes, and alcohol consumption) appear to be driven by another factor, namely stress.

Post-communist transitions varied
But not all post-communist transitions had equally traumatic consequences. Countries which proceeded more gradually – such as China, Uzbekistan and Belarus – managed to preserve institutional capacities and capabilities, thus avoiding or at least mitigating the output collapse and the sudden, dramatic increase in socio-economic stress indicators.

China and Vietnam did not experience any recession during their transitions, while life expectancy in both these countries continued to rise, although more slowly in China compared to before the 1980s, and to other countries with similar per capita GDPs and life expectancy levels.

In the case of Cuba, the 40% output reduction during 1989-1994 did not result in a mortality crisis. Instead, life expectancy in Cuba increased from 75 years in the late 1980s to 78 years in 2006.

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Reforming the International Financial Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reforming-international-financial-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reforming-international-financial-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/reforming-international-financial-system/#respond Thu, 13 Jul 2017 15:27:43 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151294 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 1997-1998 East Asian crises provided major lessons for international financial reform. Two decades later, we appear not to have done much about them

In Southeast Asia, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Credit: Sandra Siagian/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jul 13 2017 (IPS)

When we fail to act on lessons from a crisis, we risk exposing ourselves to another one. The 1997-1998 East Asian crises provided major lessons for international financial reform. Two decades later, we appear not to have done much about them. The way the West first responded to the 2008 global financial crisis should have reminded us to do more. But besides accumulating more reserves, Southeast Asia has not done much else.

Crisis prevention and management
First, existing mechanisms and institutions for preventing financial crises remain grossly inadequate. Financial liberalization continues despite the crises engendered. Too little has been done by national authorities and foreign advisers to check short-term capital flows while unwarranted reliance has been put on international adherence to codes and standards. There is also little in place to address the typically exaggerated effects of movements among major international currencies.

Second, existing mechanisms and institutions for financial crisis management are grossly inadequate. The greater likelihood, frequency and severity of currency and financial crises in emerging market economies in recent times — with devastating consequences for the real economy and innocent bystanders — makes speedy crisis resolution imperative.

Economic liberalization has also compromised macro-financial instruments available to governments for crisis management and recovery. Instead, governments have little choice but to react pro-cyclically, which tends to exacerbate economic downturns. Governments thus fail to act counter-cyclically to avoid and overcome crises, which have been more devastating in developing countries.

There is a need to increase emergency financing during crises and to establish adequate new procedures for timely and orderly debt standstills and work-outs. While IMF financing facilities were significantly augmented in 2009, little else has changed.

Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.
International financial institutions, including regional institutions, should be able to provide adequate counter-cyclical financing, including for ‘social protection’. Instead of current arrangements which mainly benefit foreign creditors, new procedures and mechanisms can help ensure that they too share responsibility for the consequences of their lending practices.

Developmental reforms
Third, international financial reform needs to go beyond crisis prevention and resolution to improve provision of development finance, especially to small and poor countries that face limited and costly access to funding their development priorities. For years now, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks have abandoned or cut industrial financing.

Fourth, powerful vested interests block urgently needed international institutional reforms. Only governance reform of international financial institutions can ensure more equitable participation and decision-making by developing countries. The concentration of power in some apex institutions can be reduced by delegating authority to others, and by encouraging decentralization, devolution, complementarity and competition with other international financial institutions, including regional ones.

Fifth, reforms should restore and ensure greater national economic authority and autonomy, which have been greatly undermined by national level deregulation as well as international liberalization and new regulation. These can enable more effective, especially expansionary and counter-cyclical macroeconomic management, as well as adequate development and inclusive finance facilities.

One size clearly cannot fit all. Policy ownership will ensure greater legitimacy, and should include capital account regulation and choice of exchange rate regime. As likely international financial reforms are unlikely to adequately provide what most developing countries need, national policy independence in regulatory and interventionist functions must be assured.

Regional cooperation
Finally, appreciation is growing of the desirability of regional monetary cooperation in the face of growing international financial challenges. The Japanese proposal for an Asian monetary facility soon after the outbreak of the 1997 crises could have helped check and manage the crises, but US opposition blocked it. With its opposition to more pro-active global initiatives, alternative regional arrangements cannot also be blocked.

Such regional arrangements also offer an intermediate alternative between national and global levels of action and intervention, besides reducing the monopoly power of global authorities. To be effective, regional arrangements must be flexible, but also credible and capable of both crisis prevention and management.

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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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