Inter Press ServiceFinancial Crisis – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 18 Nov 2017 01:29:05 +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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Deliberate Famine Should Be a War Crime, UN Expert Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/deliberate-famine-war-crime-un-expert-says/#comments Wed, 25 Oct 2017 16:39:55 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152706 The deliberate starvation of civilians could amount to a war crime and should be prosecuted, said an independent UN human rights expert. In a new report, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver examined the right to food in conflict situations and found a grim picture depicting the most severe humanitarian crisis […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 2017 (IPS)

The deliberate starvation of civilians could amount to a war crime and should be prosecuted, said an independent UN human rights expert.

In a new report, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Hilal Elver examined the right to food in conflict situations and found a grim picture depicting the most severe humanitarian crisis since the UN was established.

Hilal Elver. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

“Contrary to popular belief, causalities resulting directly from combat usually make up only a small proportion of deaths in conflict zones, with most individuals in fact perishing from hunger and disease,” she said.

Conflicts have proliferated around the world and with them has come a rise in food insecurity.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the proportion of undernourished people living in countries in conflict and protracted crises is almost three times higher than that in other developing countries.

In five conflict-stricken countries alone, approximately 20 million are facing famine and starvation.

Another estimated 70 million people in 45 countries currently require emergency food assistance, a 40 percent increase from 2015.

Since the human right to food is a universal one, Elver noted that countries and other parties to conflicts must act and avoid using food as a weapon of war.

“If the famine [occurs] from deliberate action by state or other players, using food as a weapon of war is an international crime and there is an individual responsibility to that,” she said.

“The international community should make it clear that this is a war crime or a crime against humanity, otherwise we will give a certain permission [to it],” Elver continued.

In Yemen, rates of acute malnutrition have increased dramatically since the beginning of the civil war in 2015, making it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Approximately 60 percent of the population are food insecure while 7 million are at risk of famine and acute food insecurity, a situation that is expected to worsen without an increase in emergency food assistance.

According to the World Food Programme, over 3 million children and pregnant or nursing women are acutely malnourished, making them susceptible to communicable diseases such as cholera.

Already, a severe cholera outbreak that began in April has killed over 2,000 people and has exacerbated the nutrition crisis.

Parties to the ongoing conflict have played a significant and deliberate role in the decreased access to food, including a Saudi Arabia-imposed aerial and naval blockade on a country which previously imported 90 percent of its food.

Airstrikes carried out by the coalition have also targeted the country’s agricultural sector including farms, further limiting access to food, while sieges by Houthi fighters in numerous cities have prevented staple items from reaching civilians.

Ta’izz, the Middle Eastern country’s second-largest city, was besieged by Houthi fighters for over a year, causing blockages in supply routes and dire food shortages.

Elver said that Yemen is a “clear situation” where famine constitutes a crime against humanity in which both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis are responsible.

She noted however that there is still widespread impunity in situations when famine is deliberately caused and pointed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as an example which has not prosecuted individuals responsible for such crises.

Though UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has included the Saudi-led coalition in his annual shame list for violations against children, Elver called for the creation of legal mandates to prevent famine and protect people’s right to food.

This includes the development of international legal standards to reinforce the norm that deliberate starvation is a war crime or a crime against humanity and the referral of the most serious cases to the ICC for investigation and potential prosecution.

The formal recognition of famine as a crime can prevent the tendency of governments “to hide behind a curtain of natural disasters and state sovereignty to use hunger as a genocidal weapon,” the report states.

“We can see the famine coming, it doesn’t just happen in one day,” Elver said.

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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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Austrian Elections: The Crisis of Europe Continueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 19:06:32 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152640 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The Austrian elections show clearly that media have given up on contextualising events. To do that, calls for a warning about Europe’s future, as a vehicle of European values is required. Europe has been weakened by all the recent elections, with the notable exception of France. Common to all, France included, were some clear trends, that we will hastily, and therefore maybe imperfectly, examine.

Roberto Savio

The decline of the traditional parties.

In every election, since the financial crisis of 2009, the parties we have known to run their country since the end of the Second World War, are on the wane ( or practically disappearing, like in the last French elections). In Austria, the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) secured 26 per cent of the vote, just a few votes behind the Social Democrats who took 26.9 per cent of the votes. The social democrats have been in power practically since the end of the war. And the other traditional party, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP), won the elections with 31.5 per cent. Together the two parties used to have more than 85% of the votes. In the Dutch elections held in March, Geert Wilder’s far-right Party for Freedom PVV, came second after the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy VVD, at the expense of all other parties. And in September in Germany, the far right anti immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoyed historical success, becoming the third party while the two traditional parties, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany CDU and the social democrat Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD, suffered the worst results in more than a half a century. According to polls, next year Italian elections will see a populist movement, with the 5 Stars taking over the government.

Austria is the best example to understand how European national politics have changed. It is important to note that no right wing party was really visible in Europe, (except Le Pen in France), before the financial crisis of 2009. That crisis brought insecurity and fear and in the same year the Austrian far right, under the charismatic leadership of Jorg Haider, got the same percentage of votes as of today. And the conservative Prime minister of the time, Wolfgang Schlussel broke a taboo by bringing the Freedom Party into the government. Everybody in Europe reacted with horror, practically isolating Austria. And the FPO, lost all its lustre in the government, going down to 5%, and with the death of Haider even further down. There Are no gasps of horror now in Europe over any far right wing parties getting in to govern.

What has fuelled the decline of the traditional parties

The traditional parties were facing already a loss of participation and trust by the electors at the end of the last century but in 2009 Europe imported the financial crisis which racked the US in 2006. And, 2009 saw hardship and unemployment all over Europe. And that year Greece became the battleground of two visions in Europe. The Southern countries wanted to push out of the crisis with investments and social relief, while the bloc of Northern countries, led by Germany, saw austerity as the only response. Germany wanted to export it’s experience: they were doing well thanks to an internal austerity reform started by Schroeder in 2003, and they did not want to take on other reforms at any cost.

Greece was just 4% of the European economy and could have been rescued without problems. But the German line won and today Greece has lost 25% of its properties; pensions went down by 17%, and there is a massive unemployment. Austerity was the response to the crisis for all of Europe and that aggravated fear and insecurity.

It is also important to remember that until the invasions of Libya, Iraq and Syria, in which Europe played a key role (2011- 2014), there were few immigrants and this was not a problem. In 2010, immigrants numbered 215.000, in a region of 400 millions. But during the invasions, a very fragile balance between Shite and Sunni, the two main religious branches of Islam, collapsed. Civil war, and the creation of ISIS in 2015 pushed many to try to reach Europe to escape the civil wars. So, in 2015 more than 1.2 million refugees, the majority coming from countries in conflict, arrived in Europe, which was not prepared for such a massive influx. And, if we study the elections before then, we can see that the far right parties were not as relevant as they are now.

Therefore it should be clear that austerity and immigration have been the two main factors for the rise of the right wing. Statistics and data show that clearly. Statistics also show that immigrants, of course with exceptions, (that media and populism inflates), basically want to integrate, accept any kind of work, and are law abiding and pay their contributions, which is obviously in their interest. Of course the level of instruction plays a crucial role. But the Syrians who come here were basically middle class. And of course it is an inconvenient truth that if Europe did not intervene in the name of democracy, the situation would be different. NATO estimates that more than 30 billion dollars have been spent on the war in Syria. There are now six million refugees, and 400.00 dead.

And Assad is still there. Of course, democracy has a different value in countries which are closed and rich in petrol. If we were serious about democracy, there are so many African countries which need intervention. Book Haram has killed seven times more people than ISIS; and Mugabe is considering running for re-election after dominating Zimbabwe for nearly four decades. But you will never hear much on those issues in the present political debate.

How the far right is changing Europe

Nigel Farage is the populist who led a far right party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which fought for leaving Europe. UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra Member of the European Parliament MEPs for a total of 24.[55] The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland.[56] It was the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the mosti votes in a UK-wide election.

But Farage lost the elections held just before Brexit, in June 2016. His declaration to the media was: Infact, I am the real winner, because my agenda against Europe now is the basis for politics in all the traditional parties. Brexit did follow.

And this is what is happening now everywhere. The Austrian elections did not see only the FPO rise. They also saw the conservative OVP taking immigration, security, borders and others part of the far right agenda of the populist agenda in the electoral campaign. A full 58% of the voters went for the far right or the right, with the social Democrats also moving more to the center. The new Dutch governement took a turn to the right, by reducing taxes on the rich people, and to companies. The same turn to the right can be expected by the new coalition led by Merkel, with the liberals aiming to take over the ministry of Finance. Its leader, Christian Lindner, is a nationlist and has several times declared his aversion to Europe. In that seense, he will be worse than the inflexible Schauble, who just wanted to Germanize Europe, but was a convinced European. And it is interesting that the main vote for the far righ party AfD came from East Germany, where immigrants are few. But in spite of investing the staggering amount of 1.3 trillions Euro in the development of East Germany, important differences in employment and revenues with West Germany remain. No wonder that the President of South Korea has warned President Trump to avoid any conflict. They have decided a longtime ago, looking at the German reunification that they would not have the resources required by annexing with success, North Korea.The rocketman, as Trump calls Kim, after the decertification of Iran, can claim that the only way to be sure that US will not intervene, is to show that he has a nuclear intercontinental ability, because US does not respect treaties.

Those considerations done, a pattern is clear everywhere. The agenda of the right wing has been incorporated in the traditional parties; they bring in the governing coalition, like Norway did , or they try to isolate them , as did Sweden. This does not change the fact that everybody is moving to the right. Austria will now tilt to the Visegrad group, formed by Poland , Hungary, Czech and Slovakia, which are clearly challenging Europe and looking to Putin as a political model ( all the right wing does).

The only active European voice is Macron, who clearly is not a progressist guy either. The real progressist, Corbyn, is ambigous about Europe, because the Labour Party has a lot of eurosceptic.

The new German government has already made clear that many of it’s proposals for a stronger Europe are not on the agenda, and austerity remains the way. Unless a strong growth comes soon (and the IMF doubts that), social problems will increase. Nationalism never helped peace, development and cooperation. Probably , we need some populist movement to be in the government to show that they have no real answers to the problems. The victory of 5 stars in Italy will probably do that. But this was the theory also for Egypt. Let the Muslim Brotherhood take the government , and it will be a failure. Pity that the General El Sisi did not let this happen. Our hope is that we do not get any El Sisis in Europe.

If only young people went back to vote, this would change the situation in Europe…this is the real historical loss of the left in Europe.

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Can the Kenyan Lion Kick High Enough to Be the South Korean Tiger of Africa?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/can-kenyan-lion-kick-high-enough-south-korean-tiger-africa/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 11:52:14 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152505 Dr Mary Kawar is Country Director of the ILO for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Follow her on twitter: @mary_kawar

Mr Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Follow him on twitter: @sidchat1

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Taekwondo a Korean martial art also practiced in Kenya. Credit: Capital FM

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

In 1953 South Korea emerged from the ravages of a debilitating war, yet the total gross domestic product in nominal terms has surged 31,000 fold since 1953.

Consider this: in 1950 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of South Korea was US$ 876 and Kenya’s was US$ 947. In 2016, the GDP per capita of South Korea rose to US$ 27,539 and Kenya’s to US$ 1,455.

South Korea over the past four decades has demonstrated incredible economic growth and global integration to become a high-tech industrialized economy. In the 1960s, GDP per capita was comparable with levels in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia. In 2004, South Korea joined the trillion-dollar club of world economies.

In South Korea the Gini coefficient is 0.30 (extent of inequality) whereas in Kenya it is much higher at 0.45. Despite posting some of the highest GDP growth rates globally, countries in Africa continue to have the worst poverty and unemployment rates, with Kenya being one of those countries where the gap between rich and poor is widening.

While the majority of these Kenyans are occupied in the agricultural industry, technology advances and the rising prominence of the service industry is threatening to render many of these superfluous unless urgent shifts in growth models are undertaken to create quality jobs.

Lessons from economic structural transformation abound especially from the Asian tigers. Once an agricultural country like Kenya, South Korea spent much of the 20th century driving modern technologies and is now regarded as one of Asia’s most advanced economies. Among the focus areas for the country were facilitating industrialization, high household savings rates, high literacy rates and low fertility rates.

What South Korea achieved was fast economic growth underpinned by a strong industrial base that led to full employment and higher real wages. When the 1997 financial crisis threatened employment and welfare of its citizens in 1997, the country engaged in ambitious structural adjustment that introduced social protection measures for workers, the unemployed and poor people, in addition to reigniting the drivers of growth.

The international experience suggests that, for a given increase in the labor force, GDP growth should be at least double that rate to prevent unemployment from rising, and even higher if unemployment is to be reduced. With Kenya’s labor force growing at 3 percent corresponding to one million youth entering the job market each year, GDP should keep growing at 6 percent.

But this may not be enough as there is a lot of slack in the labor market to be absorbed. Kenya has one of the highest informal sector employment rates in the continent. With about three out of four workers employed in casual jobs whose key features include unpredictable incomes, poor working conditions and low productivity.

According to the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), employment in the informal economy has grown much faster than in the formal economy, rising by nearly 4 million versus 60,000 since 2009, with the corresponding share of the formal economy in total employment shrinking to 17 percent from 19 percent.

Income inequality remains a challenge in Kenya, with the highest 10 percent earning almost 15 times higher than the lowest 10 percent, which is double of that in South Korea.

There are grounds for optimism, as Kenya seeks to move from being a regional leader to local innovator. In August 2016, Kenya hosted the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which was the first on African soil. Kenya is also developing policy and institutional reforms to increase export through better trade logistics and greater regional integration.

Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and Korean Agency for Technology and Standards (KATS) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to boost standardization activities between the two countries. Credit: Citizen TV


In addition, Kenya’s internet prices are low at half of even lower than those in neighboring countries. Innovations in mobile phone-based banking and related technological platforms have resulted in more financial inclusion that has reached 75 percent of the population. A large population of educated youth is already employed in these areas that have high job creation potential.

Kenya’s policies will need to consider the effects of technological innovations on the labor market and their socioeconomic impact. Household incomes improve when the largest number of people get involved in technology-based productive work. Even agriculture needs to be high-tech and include agro-processing.

Underlying this is the ability of the education and training system to adapt and promote the creation of a sustainable and inclusive economy. Kenya’s policies will therefore need to assess the effects of technological innovations on the labor market and their socioeconomic impact.

Kenya is moving ahead on education with its more than 1000 post-secondary institutions, 22 public and more than 30 private universities that produce the largest numbers of highly trained and skilled persons in the East African Community.

However, Kenya has substantial disparities in access to education. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, children in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties.

In addition to education, that increases employability on the labor supply side but does not in itself create jobs, more emphasis should be given to policies that increase labor demand. With an increasing youthful population, Kenya faces a window of demographic opportunity not only numerically.

Today’s youth are more educated than their parents and are “waiting in the wings”, not yet active but ready and willing to do so. But for this to happen and thus reduce youth and educated unemployment, there is a need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate actively in the economy and society.

Unfortunately, about 43 percent of Kenya’s youth are currently either unemployed or working yet living in poverty. Not unrelated to the few employment opportunities at home, many job seekers emigrate. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) reports for Kenya a skilled emigration rate of 35 per cent reaching 51 percent among health professionals. These rates are among the highest in the world. A continued lack of decent work opportunities as a result of insufficient or misapplied investments can perpetuate, if not increase, emigration and lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies.

Still within the area of labor markets, good governance is critical for linking employment growth to decent employment creation. A recent meeting on the Future of Work organized by the Ministry of Labour, the Kenya Federation of Employers and the Kenya Federation of Trade unions in collaboration with the International Labour Organization discussed the implications for the 4th industrial revolution and its impact on Kenya. The discussion confirmed that laws, policies and institutions can be improved through social dialogue that would also include the informal sector.

For women, access to family planning and maternal health services – as well as education for girls is the best bet for improved economic opportunity. Global data shows that the highest benefits from reducing unintended pregnancies would accrue to the poorest countries, with GDP increases ranging from one to eight percent by 2035. There are few interventions that would give as wide-reaching impacts.

Finally, Kenya would need to address the rural/urban divide. Urban population growth is naturally fueled from growth in the population already living in cities but in Kenya, more than in many other African countries, urban growth comes from significant internal migration. This suggests that the country side is becoming increasingly less attractive. The share of population living in slums remains high at 55 percent with no discernible decline since 1990.

In conclusion, increases in real wages and decent employment creation will remain elusive as long as growth is not inclusive while educated job seekers are not employed in sectors that require new skills. The shifting population of Kenya provides many opportunities for growth. With a median age of 18, investing in Kenya’s youth would reap a demographic dividend. Key investments have to be in education and skills, empowerment of women and girls, a Marshal plan of employment and equity. These would help accelerate Kenya’ march to prosperity and help end poverty.

When this happens, Kenya will increase its ability to introduce more comprehensive and effective social protection policies that would add to the income security provided by decent employment. And unlike South Korea, Kenya should not wait to do so after a financial crisis.

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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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Alternative Financing Strategies to Boost Small Businesses in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/alternative-financing-strategies-boost-small-businesses-africa/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 12:38:20 +0000 Franck Kuwonu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152365 A few years ago, more than half a century after the concept was first proposed, the government of Côte d’Ivoire completed construction of the Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, a span over the Ébrié Lagoon linking the north and south of Abidjan, the country’s main city. The project became a reality after the government received development […]

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Chef and owner of a restaurant and catering company in Liberia. Credit: UN Photo/C. Herwig

By Franck Kuwonu, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

A few years ago, more than half a century after the concept was first proposed, the government of Côte d’Ivoire completed construction of the Henri Konan Bédié Bridge, a span over the Ébrié Lagoon linking the north and south of Abidjan, the country’s main city. The project became a reality after the government received development bank and private capital financing.

Similarly, the Dakar-Diamniado Highway in Senegal, although a public structure, was built and is being operated by private companies. Increasing difficulties in obtaining traditional financing, including bank loans for public infrastructure such as roads, railways and dams are forcing African countries to explore alternative financing approaches.

Having the private sector build and operate infrastructure, recoup its investments and later transfer the infrastructure to governments is one way of compensating for the shortfall in official development assistance and banks’ reluctance to provide loans.

Economic backbone

Aid to the least developed countries (LDCs), most of which are in Africa, fell by 3.9% in 2016, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which promotes policies that improve economic and social well-being of rich countries.

At the moment, governments are coming up with innovative financing strategies, while big corporations are relying on investments or bank loans to grow and expand their businesses. However, Africa’s small and medium-size (SMEs) enterprises, still struggle for financing.

Governments that seek financing from private partnerships or international financing institutions such as the African Development Bank (AfDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank and others often realise that the funding available cannot meet the financial needs of the SMEs.

“In Ghana, SMEs can safely be regarded as the backbone of the economy, employing thousands of people,” Ghana’s minister of finance, Ken Ofori-Atta, said at a gathering of Ghanaian entrepreneurs in June.

SMEs represent 92% of all local businesses in Ghana, providing up to 85% of manufacturing jobs in the country and contributing about 70% to the country’s GDP. In Nigeria, 37 million SMEs employ about 60 million people and account for about 48% of the country’s GDP.

South Africa (the most advanced economy south of the Sahara) is home to more than 2.2 million SMEs, about 1.5 million of them in the informal sector. About 43% of South Africa’s SMEs operate in trade and accommodations, according to South Africa’s Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA), which, among other functions, implements the government’s small business strategy.

A 2016 SEDA report says that SMEs face challenges in accessing finance and markets. Yet eight out of 10 jobs and nine out of 10 of all businesses in sub-Saharan Africa are related to small business, according to UN figures.

Potential

SMEs, especially those in the informal sector, have a hard time accessing bank loans. A majority of African SMEs rely on personal savings or start-up capital from friends and family.

“Even when a bank is willing to lend them some money, the collateral and guarantee they require and sometimes the down payment is just too much for a small company like us,” says Alex Treku, the communications and projects manager at the Togo-based LOGOU Concept Togo (LCT).

LCT manufactures a type of electric food mixer (the Foufou Mix) that is used in place of the traditional mortar and pestle and saves women the energy used in pounding yam for fufu, a West African staple dish.

“The Foufou Mix allows for quick and hygienic yam preparation in approximately eight minutes,” the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) said when it named LCT the runner-up for the Innovation Prize for Africa in 2014.

AIF added that “pounding of yam has traditionally been done by women; this innovation provides a solution not currently being contemplated by international manufacturers. It also opens up possibilities for a whole new industry for manufacturing of such appliances on the continent.”

One-third of Nigerians reportedly eat fufu, making the country of 170 million people an attractive market for the gadget. Yet LCT is able to manufacture only about a hundred mixers a month, according to Mr. Treku. The reason? “We don’t have access to bank credit or funds to grow our business,” he says. LTC currently employs 19 people.

Operational capacities and access to markets are other challenges African MSMEs face, but access to financing is the most critical.

Partnership and innovation

On the occasion of the first-ever MSME Day marked globally on 27 June, the AfDB called for an increase in new and affordable financing schemes. Both the AfDB and the IFC would like SMEs to have increased access to financing.

Last year the AfDB reported helping 156,000 SME business owners through financial intermediaries such as commercial banks, development investment and guarantee funds. That’s a good start, but hardly enough, experts say.

By providing coverage for risks associated with lending to SMEs, an intermediary such as the African Guarantee Fund (AGF) can provide credit guarantee facilities to financial institutions that give loans to enterprises they would normally be reluctant to lend to.

Last June, the AGF announced that through a partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, the European Union and the UN Development Programme, some 5,000 SMEs in “development minerals” in five countries will have more affordable financing because of AGF’s $12 million credit guarantee.

Two years ago, the IFC and Ecobank, a pan-African commercial and investment banking group, launched a $110 million risk-sharing facility that allows Ecobank to lend money to SMEs operating in fragile and conflict-afflicted states in West and Central Africa. In addition to current efforts by traditional banks to lend to SMEs, experts have urged SMEs in Africa to explore innovative financing, such as cooperative financing and diaspora funds.

The World Bank is said to be exploring other ideas like crowdfunding—an innovative way of financing a project by raising funds from a very large number of people—peer-to-peer lending, social impact bonds and development impact bonds.

But the AfDB wants credit providers to increase lending by at least $135 billion to meet demand by African SMEs. As the overall financing gap in developing countries is currently between $2.1 and $2.6 trillion, new strategies are required to finance the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the World Economic Forum, “blended finance” could plug this hole. Should these funds become available, the majority of SMEs still operating in the informal sector will have to “take giant steps towards formalisation in order to increase their potential for accessing formal credits,” according to a 17 March study, Financing the Growth of SMEs in Africa: What Are the Constraints to SME Financing within ECOWAS? published in the Review of Development Finance.

The authors of the study maintain that policy reforms are as necessary as available financing. They also suggest requiring companies to provide credit information to boost creditors’ confidence and to make sure that government-sponsored credit schemes are managed efficiently and transparently.

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information

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Why American Overseas Aid Should Focus on SDGs?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 14:59:39 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152347 Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

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Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

By Bjorn Lomborg
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

The average American believes the US spends a whopping third of its federal budget on foreign aid. Consequently, a majority of people think that too much is spent on foreign aid. That is one reason US President Donald J. Trump, who has campaigned on putting the needs of Americans first, has proposed deep cuts to foreign aid in his 2018 budget.

The problem is, this common understanding is very wrong. US foreign aid in 2017 will cost $41.9 billion out of a total federal budget of $4.15 trillion or one percent. When informed of this, support for cutting aid halves, while support for increasing the budget more than doubles. The aid budget should be maintained. And the far more important question should instead be addressed: how do we get the most possible out of this spending?

We can look to recent history for reassuring evidence that US aid spending can achieve a great deal. A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew.

From 2000, the world agreed on 18 key undertakings, including halving the proportion of people in poverty, halving the proportion of people going hungry, and cutting child mortality by two-thirds.

The study concludes, “especially on matters of life and death, 2015 outcomes were not on track to happen anyhow”. The MDGs ensured that more money went to the most important areas. Improvements sped up. At least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. We know more today than ever before about how to create meaningful change with each dollar spent. More transparency should be encouraged to reassure taxpayers about how money is spent.

When the MDGs were being replaced in 2015 with a new development agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), my think-tank Copenhagen Consensus commissioned economists from around the world to analyze development priorities as they were proposed. The results are a body of work revealing what one aid dollar can achieve if spent in different ways.

I would be the first to argue that the SDGs are problematic: the simple 18 MDG targets were replaced with an impossibly long list of 169 targets. That’s just silly.

Targets such as the development of tools to monitor sustainable tourism or teaching the “knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” don’t deserve priority when malnourishment claims at least 1.4 million children’s lives annually, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation.

But our research conclusively showed that among this list, there are 19 incredibly powerful development targets. If USAID focuses more on the most effective targets, the public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition does deserve funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

Among the myriad of well-meaning environmental targets, our research shows that protecting coral reefs deserves prioritization. In addition to biodiversity benefits, healthy reefs increase fish stocks, benefitting fishermen and tourism.

Another transformative target would be universal access to contraception and family planning. At an annual cost of just $3.6 billion, allowing women control over pregnancy would mean 150,000 fewer maternal deaths and 600,000 fewer children being orphaned.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US.

If common belief were right and foreign aid really did swallow one-third of all federal resources, it may indeed make sense to focus more on American needs.

But in a world where a few dollars can do a world of difference, spending just one percent of the budget on aid seems a sensible investment.

When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

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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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Merkel’s Defeat Confirms Dismal Trend for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/merkels-defeat-confirms-dismail-trend-europe/#comments Fri, 29 Sep 2017 07:40:39 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152283 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Generally, media have failed to analyse why the result of German elections is the worst possible. Merkel is not a winner, but a leader now in a very fragile position, who will have to make many compromises and pay now for her mistakes. Let us make at least the most important four points of analysis.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

 

Point One: the decline of traditional parties

Now for some years, the traditional parties who have run their countries since the end of the Second World War are becoming irrelevant. The last French elections saw the practical collapse of the Socialist and Gaullist parties, with the arrival of a totally unknown candidate, Macron, who has now 60% of the seats in the Parliament. The same happened earlier in the Austrian presidential elections.

This process has now started in Germany. Merkel’s party, the CDU, had the worst performance since its creation. And its sister party, CSU (the Bavarian CDU) has lost a staggering million votes. The same has happened to the SPD, who saw the lowest approval since modern times. The two parties, who had in the last elections 67.2% of the votes, now got just 53.2%. And, as everywhere else, the missing votes went to parties who were recipients of discontent, and the desire to punish the establishment was evident. Linke, a radical left-wing party, got an additional 0.6%, by voters rejecting the increasing social inequality, and did not believe that SPD would be different from the CDU on this issue. The Green got an additional 0.5%, by those who were incensed by Merkel’s promise to increase defense costs to 2% of GDP, to please Trump. But the big winner was the AfD, an extreme right wing party, who was the conduit for people’s dissatisfaction on immigrants, on the European Union, and other nationalist and populist themes. AfD got 12.6 % of the votes, becoming the third party and with 96 members of parliament. AfD got 980.000 votes from the CDU, 470.000 from the SPD, 400.000 votes from the Linke. But, much more importantly, 1,200.000 votes from people who did not vote in the last elections. In a poll, 60% of them said that they were “disappointed with the present political situation’. At the same time the poll company Infratest Dimap, found out that 84% considered Germany’s economic situation “good”, when this was 74% four years ago, and a mere 19% eight years ago. The elections were not clearly on economy, but about immigration and the loss of German identity.

Therefore, Macron’s victory over Le Pen is not the end of the populist wave. And few doubt that if Macron loses his appeal (as it is already happening), and his fight for social reforms is stopped by mass manifestations, Le Pen would win the next elections. And the antisystem parties all over Europe did not win in the last elections, but they did not lose eithe. Now they are the needle of the balance in all Nordic countries, and can declare, like Farage , the founder of the anti-Europe party UKIP, when he lost in the last British election: it is irrelevant, our message has become part of all the political system. And Brexit was the best example that he was right…all parties in the Nordic countries had to incorporate points of the populist, especially on immigration.

It has been generally ignored that it is the middle class, the main actor in this change. Social inequality in Europe has constantly grown, and many from the middle class are impoverished or afraid. Germany is a good example. While unemployment went down with Merkel from 11% to 3.8%, those close to the poverty line went from 11% to 17% of the total. Merkel went from a public deficit of 100 billion dollars, to a surplus of 20 billion, but at the same time poverty doubled to 10%, and there are 2 million people who have two jobs to help them reach the end of the month. And the pensioners who live below the poverty line , have increased by 30%. A full 15.7% of Germans now live under the poverty line. Of these, nearly 3 million are children.

Are the fears and frustrations of the middle class only who have pushed Brexit and Trump ? The economist Homi Kharas, specialized on the middle class, considers that 43% of the world population (some 3.200 million) now form the world middle class. It grows every year by 160 million. What is common to them is that especially the lower middle class have high expectations from the government and they put economic growth before anything else. They are helped by the Internet and social media, to be aware of their rights, and of the risks. In rich countries, massive education helps awareness. In developing countries, the pressure on governments is equally strong. The best example is China. Between 2002 and 2011, there has been a strong increase in protests and loss of trust in the public institution, despite a period of economic growth. The fact is that to keep growth and social justice together, you need resources. And this a problem for the left. Its genetic message is redistribution and participation. How to do this when we are in a world of diminishing resources?

 

Point Two. The antisystem becomes an entrenched system

Bill Emmot, the ex-director of the Economist, has written: “we live in a period of political turmoil. Parties less than a year old have taken power in France and in the megalopolis of Tokyo. A party less than five years old is heading the polls in Italy. The White House is hosting a billionaire who never had any political experience. And we should add that before the crisis of 2009, no populist or xenophobe party was represented in Parliament.

We have therefore little experience on how antiparty system behaves when they are in power. But if we look at the United States, Poland and Hungary, clearly they are trying to put under control the public institutions, not because of the values of democracy that brought them to power, but a new campaign on fears and greed: globalization, immigration, automatization’s displacement of jobs, inequality, racism, and “my country first”. And the antisystem parties, who all have sent congratulatory message to the AfD, look to Putin as the political model to follow (except Poland for obvious reasons). But Urban of Hungary speaks openly of “illiberal democracy” as the main reason to combat the EU (and Poland of values of Catholicism against a secular Europe).

It is legitimate then to think that when the AfD, Le Pen, and company will come to power, (if the trend toward antisystem is not stopped), we are going to see a serious decline of democracy…also because we have Japan, India, China, Turkey, Philippines, just to name a few, who are nationalists, xenophobe and tend to project their vision, as the Russian hackers did in the last elections.

We must look at the youth’s decline in participation in politics as a new phenomenon extremely worrying. The priorities in budget allocations go increasingly to the older generations, which vote. It is important to note that the large majority of young people do not vote for the antisystem parties, but abstain. If young people did vote, we would not have Brexit and Trump. In the German elections, only 10% of those between 18 and 24 voted for AfD: all other age groups did so, and we must go to the oldest age group, those over 70 years to see a decline, to just 7% of the vote . But 69 per cent of the oldest voted for CDU and SPD, against 41% of the youngest. So, the theory that young people are moving to the right is a myth. They prefer to abstain…but the problem remains. Their abstention is helping both the system to stay, and the antisystem to win. But take Italy for example, run by a centre left party, the PD. They have just approved an incentive for youth unemployment (close to 30%), after giving 30 billion dollars to bail out four regional banks. The antisystem M5S, which is now heading the polls, has made the fight against the financial system a priority. If you were young, educated and unemployed, what would be your choice?

 

Point Three: German elections are a disaster for Europe

The appeal of an integrated Europe has been on the wane for a while. It became fashionable to present the European institutions as a bunch of unaccountable bureaucrats, out of touch with reality, intent on discussing the size of tomatoes. In fact, it is the Council of Ministers, formed by representative of the States, who take the decisions: EU can only implement them. But it becomes politically convenient to go back from Brussels and present decisions, especially those unpopular, as a diktat imposed on your country. This, of course, is just one of the many reasons for the decline of Europe as a political project. But is useful to remember this game, because it shows the irresponsibility of the political class. There was never a real unity behind the European project. Every country looked only for dividends, and now, not even for that (as the example of Poland and Hungary, very large recipients show). So, where is Europe heading?

There are in fact three visions of Europe. One is the vision of Juncker, the head of the EU. It calls for strengthening the European institutions, and reinforcing the social goals, until now left behind the economic and commercial priorities. It’s not that Juncker is a progressive: he just realizes without doing that, the anti-European parties will have an easier life. His view is of strengthening Europe as a super national entity, with the states conceding more power, for better functioning. Then there is the vision of Macron, who goes in the same direction, but from a country that has always jealously defended its national sovereignty. Yet he realizes that in this competitive world, no European country can go far, and a strong Europe is therefore necessary. Then there is Merkel’s Europe, which is basically toward a federation of countries, where decisions are taken by the states, (with Germany as the strongest), with the EU implementing them. Since Macron came to power, he has been championing the revival of the French-German entente, which is necessary for a viable Europe. Macron and the south of Europe have been asking for socialization of European revenues, so as to sustain the weakest and have a common growth, creating a European Monetary Fund to overcome crisis, a super minister of finance and economy, a common European defence and several social measures to give back faith to the European losers in Europe.

Well, this is exactly what Germany has vetoed every time. Germans do not want to share their revenues with losers. In this debate, there is a strong religious and moral argument: the protestant ethic against catholic culture of easy pardon. Greece was the field to affirm the doctrine of ordo liberalism, the German view of economics, where easy-going and lack of discipline must be punished. This was also a warning to other countries, like Italy, Spain and Portugal. The result of sanctions on Greece, which was just 4% of the European economy, is that after seven years there is at least 20% unemployment, a loss of 25% of the Greek economy, a reduction of the pensions of nearly 40%, and 20% of the population under poverty line. It should not be forgotten that a large component of the bail out loans went first to the banks (mainly German), to pay the large credits they had with the broken Greek state, and not to the citizens. And that now airports and ports are under German administration.

The face of this imposition of austerity, which is a very important component of the anti-European wind, had the face of the implacable and crippled minister of Finance, Schauble. But there was no doubt that he was pro Europe, even if of a Europe based on the German model. But now he has moved to be the President of the Parliament, to leave his place to the chairman of the FPD, the liberal party, Christian Lindner, who is an avowed anti-European. FDP is against the euro, wants Greece out of the Euro, wants a strong policy on refugees: in other words, he is much on the right. Merkel, the extremely prudent Chancellor , will certainly not be able to meet the expectations of Macron and Juncker. Europe will again be on standby. Italy will be probably run by a young PRime Minister (from the antisystem M5S) a totally untested 31 year old, who has announced that he would like to leave the Euro, and limit Brussels power. The tide against Europe has not been stopped at all, contrary to media enthusiasm.

 

Point Four: Merkel’s responsibilities

There is no doubt that the massive immigration of one million of Syrians, has given a strong weapon to Afd, and the liberals, to help them gain power. But time will prove that it was a wise decision, greeted by the German economy. Statistics show that Immigrants are model citizens, pay their taxes, and bring a net benefit to the country who receives them. Of course, we see only the story of criminals and rapists, that xenophobe parties use with success, because in difficult times to find a scapegoat is easy and convenient. But Merkel just rode the German idiosyncrasy, without doing any statist’s effort to mobilize citizens to a vision. She knows that the secret dream of Germans is to be a Swiss: no participation in the world (other than business), no experiments, no risks. She has become the embodiment of that idiosyncrasy – she is glad to be called Mutti, the mother. Other than the immigrants, she took only another risk, which was to abandon nuclear, after the disaster of Fukushima. Therefore, she did nothing to raise the awareness of the citizens on their European responsibilities. She shielded them from any sacrifice for being Europeans, refused any request by the EU, the IMF and the Wold Bank to spend the huge surplus that Germany made with intra-European trade. Her position was: we will keep the money we made with our hard work. And Schauble was just her instrument. Now, as a result of her odd coalition government she will ask the European Central Bank post for a German hawk, Jedemans, from the Bank of Germany: a good company to Christian Lindner. Dark days are coming for Europe; Merkel is the best illustration of the difference between the Germany of Bonn, run by idealist and committed politicians, with the Germany of Berlin, who is just a selfish entity, without vision. And after spending 100 billion a year, for 20 years, East Germany remains hopelessly behind, and it is where AfD took his largest share of votes.

On the night after the elections, the candidate for SPD, Martin Shultz, said looking into her eyes: Mrs Merkel, you are the great loser. You are the one responsible for the victory of AfD. Let us hope that willingly or not, Mutti will be also the one responsible for the end of the European dream.

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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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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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Venezuela’s Government Is Following a “Policy to Repress,” the UN Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/venezuelas-government-following-policy-repress-un-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=venezuelas-government-following-policy-repress-un-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/venezuelas-government-following-policy-repress-un-says/#respond Wed, 30 Aug 2017 18:36:35 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151852 After sending a team to investigate the human rights conditions in Venezuela amid growing political and economic crisis, the UN Human Rights Office has reported that the crushing of anti-government protests point to the “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear in the population to curb demonstrations.” After being repeatedly […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with Jorge Arreaza, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2017 (IPS)

After sending a team to investigate the human rights conditions in Venezuela amid growing political and economic crisis, the UN Human Rights Office has reported that the crushing of anti-government protests point to the “the existence of a policy to repress political dissent and instil fear in the population to curb demonstrations.”

After being repeatedly denied access into Venezuela, the UN sent a team to monitor the situation remotely. After investigating protests from April 1 until 31st July, the team recorded that the security forces and armed colectivos, a pro-government armed group, were responsible for a total 73 deaths or half of all 146 deaths that the team opened investigations into. The report also sheds light on the gradual escalation of violence, as injured persons in the first half of April reported inhaling tear gas, and by the end of July, came in dozens to treat injuries from gunshots.

As the report clearly outlines Venezuela’s spiral into crisis by continuous use of attacks against peaceful protesters by government forces, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has stressed on the importance to curb this mishandling of power.

“The right to peaceful assembly was systematically violated, with protestors and people identified as political opponents detained in great numbers. The report also identifies serious violations of due process and patterns of ill-treatment, in some cases amounting to torture,” Zeid said.

International pressure, however, has worked to some effect as many detainees, who numbered as many as 5,000 in the beginning of April, have been freed. Still, more than 1,000 are reportedly detained. In addition, 609 civilians have been tried in military courts, instead of ordinary courts.

Besides the use of deadly force, many witnesses gave firsthand accounts of the violence, citing cases where the security forces deliberately fired tear gas at short range, or threw nuts and bolts directly at them. Numerous instances of illegal house raids and unlawful torture of detainees have also been reported.

The breakdown of law and order, with violence primarily attributed to the National Guard and the National Police, has picked up pace in August.

Recent measures like criminalising leaders from the opposition through the newly established Commission of Truth, Justice, and Peace have raised concerns about the partisan nature of inquiries into preventing further violence. This new commission was recently installed by the controversial Constituent Assembly.

Zeid cited the deterioration of conditions in the country and encouraged the government to follow up on the report published by the UN and make conscientious enquiry.

“I encourage the Venezuelan Government to follow up on the recommendations made in the report and to use its findings as guidelines to seek truth and justice for the victims of human rights violations and abuses. I once again call on the Government to renounce any measure that could increase political tension in the country and appeal to all parties to pursue meaningful dialogue to bring an end to this crisis,” he said.

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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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Why New US Cold War with Russia Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-us-cold-war-russia-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 15:54:16 +0000 Vladimir Popov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151631 Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

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Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

By Vladimir Popov
BERLIN, Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

Even before the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by Donald Trump and the ongoing fuss over Russian hackers undermining US democracy, Russian-American relations had deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s. Why?

Vladimir Popov

Political ideology
After all, the US has fewer ideological disagreements with Russia than with the USSR. Russia now has a capitalist economy and is more democratic than the USSR. Russia is also much weaker than the USSR – its population and territory are about 60 to 80 percent of the Soviet Union, and its economic and military might has been considerably diminished, so it poses much less of a threat to the US than the USSR.
However, US rhetoric and actions towards Russia are much more belligerent now than during the 1970s, or in the 1980s, when the US imposed sanctions against the USSR after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. Even when President Reagan was calling the USSR ‘the evil empire’, relations did not deteriorate as much as in recent years.

Bilateral economic relations have taken a similar turn for the worse. Soviet-US trade expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, nominally increasing nearly a hundred-fold in two decades, before plateauing in the 1980s. There was some growth in the 1990s and 2000s after the USSR fell apart, but after peaking in 2011, trade has been falling.

Why did the fastest expansion of bilateral trade occur in the 1960s and 1970s? After all, the USSR was not a market economy, and also ‘communist’. By contrast, US trade growth with post-Soviet, capitalist and democratic Russia over the next two decades was modest, before actually shrinking in the last half decade.

Geopolitics?

One popular explanation is geopolitical considerations. It is argued that when a hostile power tries to expand its influence, the US, the rest of the West and hence, NATO respond strongly.

Examples cited include the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, and sanctions against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The same could be said about more recent Western sanctions in response to Russian advances in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.

But the 1970s contradicts this argument. After all, the USSR was gaining ground at US expense in Indochina, the former Portuguese colonies, Nicaragua and other developing countries. Why then did détente and trade grow in the 1970s?

US as #1
The US position is not primarily determined by either ideology or geopolitics, but rather, by the changing US establishment view of the balance of power. After the devastation of the Second World War, the USSR was hardly a superpower, so the US expected to press the USSR, its erstwhile ally, into submission through the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union began closing the gap with the United States in terms of productivity, per capita income and military strength in the 1950s and 1960s. Even though its economy slowed from the mid-1960s, the USSR had caught up in many respects, enough to qualify as the other superpower. The result was détente. Although the USSR had been offering rapprochement after the Second World War, the US only accepted detente in the 1970s, as the military gap closed.

Today, the US establishment knows that the Russian economy have fallen far behind since the 1980s while its military is getting more obsolete. The strategic conclusion appears to be that Russia can be contained via direct pressure and sanctions, something unthinkable against the communist USSR in the 1970s or China today, even though China is less democratic than Russia and still led by a communist party.

Playing with fire
Economically and militarily, Russia is undoubtedly relatively much weaker today than the USSR was. But its capacity has recovered considerably in the new century from the 1990s, with modest growth reversing the economic devastation of the Yeltsin presidency.

And even if it is true that the US is now an unchallenged ‘number one’, and will remain dominant in the foreseeable future, while Russia is not only weak, but also getting relatively weaker, the current effort of pressing Russia into submission has risks.

US pressure on Russia can result in a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which the USSR was willing to risk at that time, even though its military capability was well behind that of the US. Eventually, not only were Soviet missiles withdrawn from Cuba, a return to the status quo ante, but the US also promised not only not to invade Cuba, but also to withdraw its medium range missiles from Turkey.

True, Russia is relatively weaker today, but it still has tremendous destructive capacity. One only has to remember that North Korea, with much less military capacity, has successfully withstood US pressure for decades. However, as US economic dominance in the world has been eroding since the Second World War, and its military superiority is the main source of US advantage, the temptation will remain to use this superiority before it is eroded as well.

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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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Asian Financial Crisis: Lessons Learned and Unlearnedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/asian-financial-crisis-lessons-learned-and-unlearned/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asian-financial-crisis-lessons-learned-and-unlearned http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/asian-financial-crisis-lessons-learned-and-unlearned/#respond Thu, 27 Jul 2017 16:02:13 +0000 Yilmaz Akyuz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151454 Yilmaz Akyuz is Chief economist, South Centre, and former director, UNCTAD, Geneva

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Much of what has recently been written about the Asian financial crisis on the occasion of its 20th anniversary praises the lessons drawn and the measures implemented thereupon. But they often fail to appreciate that while these might have been effective in preventing the crisis in 1997, they may be inadequate and even counterproductive today because they entail deeper integration into global finance.

Asset and currency markets of all emerging economies with strong international reserves and investment positions, including China, have been hit on several occasions in the past ten years. Office buildings at night, Hong Kong - Credit: Bigstock

By Yilmaz Akyuz
GENEVA, Switzerland, Jul 27 2017 (IPS)

Debates are taking place on whether there will be another financial crisis, whether in some part of the world or that is global in scope.  Governments draw lessons from financial crises to adopt measures to prevent their recurrence.  However, such measures are often designed to address the root causes of the last crisis but not the next one.  More importantly, they can actually become the new sources of instability and crisis. 

Much of what has recently been written about the Asian crisis on the occasion of its 20th anniversary praises the lessons drawn and the measures implemented thereupon.  But they often fail to appreciate that while these might have been effective in preventing the crisis in 1997, they may be inadequate and even counterproductive today because they entail deeper integration into global finance.

An immediate step taken in Asia was to abandon currency pegs and move to flexible exchange rates in order to facilitate external adjustment and prevent one-way bets for speculators.  This has a lot to commend it, but its effects depend on how capital flows are managed.

Under free capital mobility no regime can guarantee stable rates.  Currency crises can occur under flexible exchange rates as under fixed exchange rates.   Unlike fixed pegs, floating at times of strong inflows can cause nominal appreciations and encourage even more short-term inflows.  Indeed nominal appreciations have been quite widespread during the surges in capital inflows in the new millennium, including in some East Asian economies.

Second, most emerging economies, including those in Asia, have liberalized foreign direct investment regimes and opened up equity markets to foreigners on the grounds that equity liabilities are less risky and more stable than external debt.  As a result, non-resident holdings as a percent of market capitalization have reached unprecedented levels, ranging between 20 and 50 per cent compared to 15 per cent in the US.

This has made the emerging economies highly susceptible to conditions in mature markets.  Since emerging economies lack a strong local investor base, the entry and exit of even relatively small amounts of foreign investment now result in large price swings.

Yilmaz Akyüz, chief economist of the South Centre, Geneva.

Third, they have also sought to reduce currency mismatches in balance sheets and exposure to exchange rate risk by opening domestic bond markets to foreigners and borrowing in their own currencies.  As a result sovereign debt in many emerging economies is now internationalized to a greater extent than that in reserve-currency countries.

Whereas about one-third of US treasuries are held by non-residents, this proportion is much higher in many emerging economies, including in Asia.  Unlike US treasuries this debt is not in the hands of foreign central banks but in the portfolios of fickle investors.

Although opening bond markets has allowed the sovereign to pass the currency risk to lenders, it has led to loss of autonomy over domestic long-term rates and entailed a significant exposure to interest rate shocks from the US.  This could prove equally and even more damaging than currency exposure in the transition of the US Fed from low-interest to high-interest regime and normalization of its balance sheet.

Fourth, there has been extensive liberalization of the capital account for residents.  Corporations have been encouraged to become global players by borrowing and investing abroad, resulting in a massive accumulation of debt in low-interest reserve currencies since 2008.

They have also borrowed through foreign subsidiaries.  These are not always repatriated and registered as capital inflows and external debt, but they have a similar impact on corporate fragility.  Hence the reduction in currency mismatches is largely limited to the sovereign while private corporations carry significant exchange rate risks.

Fifth, limits on the acquisition of foreign securities, real estate assets and deposits by resident individuals and institutional investors have been raised or abolished.  A main motive was to relieve upward pressures on currencies from the surge in capital inflows.  Thus, liberalization of resident outflows was used as a substitute to restrictions over non-resident inflows.  Although this has led to accumulation of private assets abroad, these would not be readily available at times of capital flight.

Sixth, banking regulations and supervision have no doubt improved, restricting currency and maturity mismatches in bank balance sheets.  However, banks now play a much less prominent role in the intermediation of international capital flows than in the 1990s.  International bond issues by corporations have grown much faster than cross-border bank lending directly or through local banks and a very large part of capital inflows now goes directly into the securities market.

These measures have failed to prevent credit and asset market bubbles in most countries in the region.  Increases in non-financial corporate debt since 2007 in Korea and Malaysia are among the fastest, between 15 and 20 percentage points of GDP.  At around 90 per cent of GDP Malaysia has the highest household debt in the developing world.  In Korea the ratio of household debt to GDP is higher than the ratio in the US and the average of the OECD.

 

International Reserves

Asian economies, like many others, are commended for building self-insurance by accumulating large amounts of international reserves.  Moreover, an important part of these came from current account surpluses, not just capital inflows.  Indeed, all countries directly hit by the 1997 crisis made a significant progress in the management of their external balances in the new millennium, running surpluses or keeping deficits under control.

However, whether or not these reserves would be sufficient to provide adequate protection against massive and sustained exit of capital is highly contentious.  After the Asian crisis, external vulnerability came to be assessed in terms of adequacy of reserves to meet short-term external debt in foreign currencies.

However, there is not always a strong correlation between pressure on reserves and short-term external debt.  Often, in countries suffering large reserve losses, sources other than short-term foreign currency debt play a greater role.  Currencies can come under stress if there is a significant foreign presence in domestic deposit and securities markets and the capital account is open for residents.

A rapid and generalized exit could create significant turbulence with broader macroeconomic consequences, even though losses due to declines in asset prices and currencies fall on foreign investors and mitigate the drain of reserves.

In all four Asian countries directly hit by the 1997 crisis, international reserves now meet short-term external dollar debt.  But they do not always leave much room to accommodate a sizeable and sustained exit of foreign investors from domestic securities and deposit markets and capital flight by residents.

This is particularly the case in Malaysia where the margin of reserves over short-term dollar debt is quite small while foreign holdings in local securities markets are sizeable.  Indeed its currency has been under constant pressure since mid-2014.  As foreign holders of domestic securities started to unload ringgit denominated assets, markets fell sharply and foreign reserves declined from over $130 billion to $97 billion by June 2015.  In October 2015 the ringgit hit the lowest level since September 1998 when it was pegged to the dollar.  Currently it is below the lows seen during the turmoil in January 1998.

Deepening integration into the inherently unstable international financial system before attaining economic and financial maturity and without securing multilateral mechanisms for orderly and equitable resolution of external liquidity and debt crises could thus prove to be highly costly.
In Indonesia reserves exceed short-term dollar debt by a large margin, but foreign holdings in its local bond and equity markets are also substantial and the current account is in deficit.  The country was included among Fragile 5 in 2013 by Morgan Stanley economists for being too dependent on unreliable foreign investment to finance growth.

Capital account regimes of emerging economies are much more liberal today both for residents and non-residents than in the 1990s.  Asset and currency markets of all emerging economies with strong international reserves and investment positions, including China, have been hit on several occasions in the past ten years, starting with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

The Lehman impact was strong but short-lived because of the ultra-easy monetary policy introduced by the US.  Subsequently these markets came under pressure again during the ‘taper tantrum’ in May 2013 when the US Fed revealed its intention to start reducing its bond purchases; in October 2014 due to growing fears over global growth and the impact of an eventual rise in US interest rates; in late 2015 on the eve of the increase in policy rates in the US for the first time in seven years.

These bouts of instability did not inflict severe damage because they were temporary, short-lived dislocations caused by shifts in market sentiments without any fundamental departure from the policy of easy money.  But they give strong warnings for the kind of turmoil emerging economies could face in the event of a fundamental reversal of US monetary policy.

Should self-insurance built-up prove inadequate, economies facing large and sustained capital flight would have two options.  First, seek assistance from the IMF and central banks of reserve-currency countries.  Or second, engineer an unorthodox response, even going beyond what Malaysia did during the 1997 crisis, bailing in international creditors and investors by introducing, inter alia, exchange restrictions and temporary debt standstills, and using selective controls in trade and finance to safeguard economic activity and employment.

The Asian countries, like most emerging economies, seem to be determined not to go to the IMF again.  But, serious obstacles may be encountered in implementing unilateral heterodox measures, including creditor litigation and sanctions by creditor countries.  Deepening integration into the inherently unstable international financial system before attaining economic and financial maturity and without securing multilateral mechanisms for orderly and equitable resolution of external liquidity and debt crises could thus prove to be highly costly.

This paper draws on a recent book by the author; Playing with Fire: Deepened Financial Integration and Changing Vulnerabilities of the Global South, Oxford University Press, 2017. 

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