Inter Press Service » Financial Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:36:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Trump Marks the End of a Cyclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149052 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

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, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

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Tax Evasion Lessons From Panamahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/tax-evasion-lessons-from-panama/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 14:44:28 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149048 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. ]]>

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.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Unlike Wikileaks and other exposes, the Panama revelations were carefully managed, if not edited, quite selective, and hence targeted, at least initially. Most observers attribute this to the political agendas of its main sponsors. Nevertheless, the revelations have highlighted some problems associated with illicit financial flows, as well as tax evasion and avoidance, including the role of enabling governments, legislation, legal and accounting firms as well as shell companies.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

The political tremors generated by the edited release of 1.1 million documents were swift. No one expected Iceland’s prime minister to resign in less than 48 hours, or that the then British prime minister would soon publicly admit that he had benefited from the hidden wealth earned from an opaque offshore company of his late father.

Panama Papers
The Panama Papers help us understand how shell companies and trusts operate. The documents, from the law firm Mossack Fonseca, involved 210,000 legal entities. The Panama-based law firm has worked with some of the world’s biggest banks — including HSBC, Société Générale, Credit Suisse, UBS and Commerzbank — to set up thousands of offshore companies to circumvent tax and law enforcement authorities worldwide.

The accounts enabled by just one law firm in Panama is the tip of a massive iceberg still hidden from public view as many other such firms in different locations provide similar services. High net-worth individuals and corporations have a far greater ability to evade taxes by paying tax advisers, lawyers and accountants, and by opening undeclared companies and financial accounts in low-tax jurisdictions. The expose shows that the firm aided public officials, their cronies and large corporations to avoid taxes.

Not surprisingly, Mossack Fonseca claims it has never been accused or charged in connection with criminal wrongdoing. This only underscores the fact that Panama’s financial regulators, police, judiciary and political system are very much part of the system. Similarly, many clients believe that they have not violated national and international regulations.

‘Offshore’ tax havens

Total global wealth was estimated, by a 2012 Tax Justice Network (TJN) USA report, entitled The Price of Offshore Revisited, at US$231 trillion in mid-2011; this was roughly 3.5 times the global GDP of US$65 trillion in 2011. It conservatively estimated that, of this, US$21 to US$32 trillion of hidden and stolen wealth has been stashed secretly, ‘virtually tax-free’, in and ‘through’ more than 80 secret jurisdictions.

According to Oxfam, at least US$18.5 trillion is hidden in undeclared and untaxed tax havens worldwide, with two thirds in the European Union, and a third in UK-linked sites. After the Panama Papers leak, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 US companies have stashed US$1.38 trillion offshore to minimize US tax exposure. The 50 companies are estimated to have earned some US$4 trillion in profits across the world between 2008 and 2014, but have only paid 26.5 per cent of it in US tax.

In a 5 April 2016 speech, following the US Treasury’s crackdown on corporate tax ‘inversions’, US President Obama criticized ‘poorly designed’ laws for allowing illicit money transfers worldwide. He noted that “Tax avoidance is a big, global problem…a lot of it is legal, but that’s exactly the problem”.

It was also estimated that this costs poor countries over US$100 billion in lost tax revenues every year. Oxfam also found that tax dodging by transnational corporations alone costs the developing world between US$100 to US$160 billion yearly. If ‘profit shifting’ is taken into account, about US$250 to US$300 billion is lost. After all, many countries and institutions actively enable—and profit handsomely from—the theft of massive funds from developing countries.

More so now than ever before, the term ‘offshore’ for tax havens refers less to physical locations than to virtual ones, often involving “networks of legal and quasi-legal entities and arrangements”. Private banking ‘money managers’ provide all needed services — including financial, economic, legal, accounting and insurance services — to facilitate such practices, making fortunes for themselves by doing so. Thousands of shell banks and insurers, 3.5 million paper companies, more than half the world’s registered commercial ships over 100 tons, and tens of thousands of ‘shell’ subsidiaries of giant global banks, accounting firms and various other companies operate from such locations.

Reforming tax havens?
In recent years, amid increased public scrutiny, the global tax haven landscape has changed. The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based club of rich nations, has been developing a global transparency initiative to crack down on tax haven secrecy. But Panama is refusing to participate seriously, with the OECD tax chief calling it a jurisdiction “that welcomes crooks and money launderers”.

To qualify for the OECD’s ‘white list’ of approved jurisdictions, almost 100 countries and other jurisdictions have agreed, since 2014, to impose new modest disclosure requirements for international customers. Hence, the Swiss government has now relaxed confidentiality-cum-secrecy provisions, allowing information sharing about illegal or unauthorized deposits with other countries, subject to certain conditions. Consequently, the world of illegal and unaccounted cash has moved in response.

Facilitating tax evasion
Only a handful of nations have declined to sign on. The most prominent is the US. Another is Panama. As Panama has dodged, delayed and diluted compliance with OECD regulations, many accounts moved to Panama from other signatory tax havens. As Bloomberg noted earlier in 2016, “Panama and the U.S. have at least one thing in common: Neither has agreed to new international standards to make it harder for tax evaders and money launderers to hide their money.”

Rothschild, the centuries-old European financial institution, is now moving the fortunes of wealthy foreign clients out of offshore havens subject to the new international disclosure requirements, to Rothschild-run trusts in Nevada, which are exempt.

It has acknowledged that the US itself is the world’s single greatest tax haven, while the UK plays a disproportionately greater role as a tax haven, considering the smaller size of its population and economy. A TJN study found that the US continues to facilitate financial secrecy and tax evasion. “Due to lax requirements…, it is far easier to set up an anonymous shell company in the US than it is in well-known tax havens”, according to the Financial Transparency Coalition.

The US does not accept a lot of international standards, and can get away with it because of its economic and political clout, but is probably the only country that can continue to do that. It has taken steps to keep track of American assets abroad, but not of foreign assets in the US.

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Washington Rules Change, Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/washington-rules-change-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washington-rules-change-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/washington-rules-change-again/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:33:45 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148980 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. ]]> South-south cooperation represents a progressive alternative to the Washington Consensus. Credit: IPS

South-south cooperation represents a progressive alternative to the Washington Consensus. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LAMPUR, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

Over the last four decades, the Washington Consensus, promoting economic liberalization, globalization and privatization, reversed four decades of an earlier period of active state intervention to accelerate and stabilize more inclusive economic growth, associated with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Maynard Keynes.

The Golden Age
The US Wall Street Crash of 1929 led to the Great Depression, which in turn engendered two important policy responses in 1933 with lasting consequences for generations to come: US President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the 1933 Glass-Steagal Act.

While massive spending following American entry into the Second World War was clearly decisive in ending the Depression and for the wartime boom, the New Deal clearly showed the way forward and suggested what could be achieved if more public money had been deployed consistently to revive economic growth.

Michal Kalecki and Keynes provided robust analytical justification for counter-cyclical fiscal and other policies to maintain aggregate demand, very much contravening earlier received wisdom. Post-war decolonization gave birth to the academic field of development economics from the 1950s, initially pioneered by Central Europeans striving not to be left behind by the earlier ascendance of Western Europe and then the United States of America after its Civil War.

For about a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War, the post-war ‘Golden Age’ saw rapid post-war reconstruction in Western Europe. This was crucially supported by the generous Marshall Plan, arguably the first, largest and most successful development cooperation program, triggered by the beginning of the Cold War. Similar economic development policies and assistance were introduced in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, following the Korean War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

US Secretary of State General George Marshall understood that inclusive economic development would help ensure a cordon sanitaire against the Soviet-led camp. Thus, thanks to the Cold War, Western Europe and Northeast Asia recovered quickly, industrialized rapidly and achieved sustained, rapid growth with interventionist policies which would be widely condemned by today’s conventional wisdom. While national economic capacities and capabilities had to be nurtured to ensure sustainable development, Marshall also recognized that aid should be truly developmental, not piecemeal or palliative.

Washington Consensus

The ‘Washington Consensus’ – uniting the American government and the Bretton Woods institutions located in the US capital city – emerged from the early 1980s to prescribe neo-liberal economic policies for developing countries for the ‘counter-revolutions’ against development economics, Keynesian economics and progressive state interventions.

Macroeconomic policies became narrowly focused on balancing annual budgets and attaining predictably low inflation – instead of the earlier post-colonial emphasis on achieving and sustaining rapid growth and full employment without runaway inflation. A ‘neo-liberal’ wave of deregulation, privatization and economic globalization followed, supposedly to boost economic growth. Economic growth was expected to trickle down to reduce poverty, with broader sustainable development and inequality concerns consigned to the garbage bin.

But the Washington Consensus policies not only failed to sustain economic growth, largely due to the greater instability and volatility associated with financial liberalization, especially across borders. But premature trade liberalization also undermined existing production and export capacities and capabilities without enabling the development of new ones. For the poorest countries, the loss of tariff revenue also undermined government revenues, expenditure and hence, the capacity to provide badly needed infrastructure, social protection and support for developmental initiatives.

Globalization’s Contradictory Discontents
Instead, those developing countries which achieved rapid growth and structural transformation were typically those which defied conventional wisdom by adopting pragmatic ‘heterodox’ developmental economic policies appropriate to their respective circumstances. Meanwhile, financial and other economic crises of various types became more frequent and disruptive, undermining sustained growth.

In the meantime, the more liberal developed economies experienced spurts of rapid growth as well as greater volatility and instability while most developed economies became more vulnerable to institutional stasis as they abandoned Keynesian policies for neo-liberal policies demanded by markets and their champions.

With European social democrats turning their backs on Keynes in favour of neoliberal economics, and often barely distinguishable from the centre-right in this regard, dissent against economic liberalization and its discontents moved to the ‘extremes’. With the left often on the backfoot in most developed economies for more than a quarter century, it has been the right which has successfully mobilized against cultural ‘others’ often divided among themselves.

While the rhetoric of the national chauvinist ‘new right’ rejects globalization and multiculturalism, it also rejects international solidarity, cooperation and multilateralism. Its rejection of the neoliberal Washington Consensus does not imply opposition to contemporary imperialism, but rather threatens a return to old — and new — forms of domination, economic and otherwise.

More than ever, it will be crucial for developing countries to work together, not only to ensure that South-South and ‘triangular’ (with the North) cooperation represents a progressive alternative to the Washington Consensus and its national chauvinist successors. Such solidarity will determine how well the South — and the world as a whole — will fare during the coming eclipse.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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Major Crisis, Minor Reformshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/major-crisis-minor-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=major-crisis-minor-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/major-crisis-minor-reforms/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2017 16:24:29 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148889 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. ]]> A growing realization in the West that economic conditions for working people have been slowly, but steadily deteriorating in recent decades. Credit: IPS

A growing realization in the West that economic conditions for working people have been slowly, but steadily deteriorating in recent decades. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 2017 (IPS)

The 2008-2009 financial breakdown, precipitated by the US housing mortgage crisis, has triggered an extended stagnation in the developed economies, initially postponed in much of the developing world by high primary commodity prices until 2014. Yet, the financial crisis and protracted economic slowdown since has not led to profound changes in the conventional wisdom or policy prescriptions, especially at the international level, despite global economic integration since the 1980s.

To be sure, the spread of the crisis caused the G20 group of US-selected important economies to convene for the first time at a heads of government level in a mid-November 2008 White House summit instigated by then French President Sarkozy. Various national initiatives to save their financial sectors were followed by a Gordon Brown UK initiative to significantly augment IMF resources. Soon, however, the appearance of supposed ‘green shoots of recovery’ led to premature abandonment of fiscal recovery efforts, reinforced by Eurozone fiscal rules, the powerful influence of financial rentier interests and bogus academic claims of impending doom due to public debt growth.

Weak response, weak recovery
The uneven and lacklustre economic recovery and worsening conditions for many in the world since then have been accompanied by a tremendous new concentration of wealth. Meanwhile, there has been a growing realization in the West that economic conditions for working people, which had been rising rapidly in the post-war decades, have been slowly, but steadily deteriorating in recent decades.

This has been associated in the popular imagination with globalization and some of its major manifestations, including increased inflows of cheaper goods and migrants. Widespread political, social and cultural reactions were summarily dismissed by political and media establishments as unfounded populisms of one kind or another.

To be sure, the dominant tendencies have often been xenophobic, culturally chauvinist and intolerant, and sometimes, downright racist. Ostensibly to secure electoral majorities and to move with the times, most European social democrat leaders have joined the consensus of the financial rentiers, discrediting the ‘centre-left’ and strengthening the ‘popularity’ of the ‘far right’ and exceptionally, the left.

Despite this vortex of globalization, financial crisis, stagnation, rising inequality and populism, somewhat reminiscent of the 1930s, there has been no comparable policy or analytical response, and most certainly, no leadership comparable to, say, Roosevelt’s New Deal or the Marshall Plan.

Some rethinking, but to no end
Besides the brief rediscovery of Hyman Minsky’s work, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Shiller, Thomas Piketty and other dissenters have received far more attention than if not for the crisis. Meanwhile, some distinguished mainstream economists have been forced by recent realities to reconsider elements of the conventional wisdom, without requiring abandonment of the creed.

Since the leadership of IMF Managing Director Dominic Strauss-Kahn, the Fund’s Research Department has contributed to such rethinking, especially on financial regulation, fiscal policy and income inequality. The Fund has been re-legitimized in the eyes of some of its critics elated by its research findings and their policy implications. In some instances, the nature and significance of the research findings have been exaggerated by erstwhile critics pleasantly surprised by the researchers’ apparently critical turn.

Such research results have broadened the scope of what is deemed acceptable economic policy discourse. But in fact, these research findings have had rather limited and mixed consequences for its operations, including its policy advice and conditionalities.

Meanwhile, the Fund has already begun to back-pedal on some of its bolder critical publications, e.g., on neo-liberalism’s responsibility for slower growth and greater inequality in its Finance and Development periodical in June 2016. Thus, while there has undoubtedly been a welcome shift in the Fund’s research findings, it is important not to exaggerate their actual significance for its role, impact and operations.

Before his passing a decade ago, neoclassical economics guru Paul Samuelson had raised concerns about the biased, one-dimensional and exaggerated claims of the benefits from international trade liberalization. But even now, the Washington Consensus presumption that trade liberalization raises all boats without any need for compensatory mechanisms, continues to be the conventional wisdom.

One step forward, two steps back
Worse still, so-called free trade agreements have less and less to do with reducing barriers to trade, but instead have become major instruments for advancing powerful corporate interests abroad, and certainly not for enhancing prospects for sustainable development and food security. Meanwhile, as Jagdish Bhagwati has long emphasized, the prospects for multilateral trade liberalization are being undermined by non-trade conditionalities as well as bilateral and plurilateral agreements driven by other considerations.

Much more remains to be done if economic research and policy advice are to rise to meet the challenges of our times. Unfortunately, for the time being, it is not clear that political conditions and leadership are conducive to such shifts in the near future.

To be sure, some of the recent rethinking is significant, with important policy implications, and could lead to state and collective international intervention mechanisms to rein in the neo-liberal paradigm in extremis. But most actual policy and regulatory reform initiatives have been limited in scope so far, and continue to be deeply compromised by powerful rentier interests and their proponents in the ‘deep state’, academia and the media.

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Trade War Threat Growshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trade-war-threat-grows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trade-war-threat-grows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trade-war-threat-grows/#comments Thu, 26 Jan 2017 08:08:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148673 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 20]]> Waiting for work at the Day Workers Center in Seattle, Washington. The new Trump administration promises ‘tough and fair agreements’ on trade, to revive the US economy and create millions of jobs. Credit: IPS

Waiting for work at the Day Workers Center in Seattle, Washington. The new Trump administration promises ‘tough and fair agreements’ on trade, to revive the US economy and create millions of jobs. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 2017 (IPS)

New American President Donald Trump has long insisted that the United States has been suffering from poor trade deals made by his predecessors. Renegotiating or withdrawing from these deals will be top priority for his administration which views trade policy as key to US economic revival under Trump. What will that mean?

The new administration promises ‘tough and fair agreements’ on trade, ostensibly to revive the US economy and to create millions of mainly manufacturing jobs. The POTUS is committed to renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994 by the United States, Canada and Mexico. And if NAFTA partners refuse what the White House deems to be a ‘fair’ renegotiated agreement, “the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA”.

Constraints?
Presidential fiat may well be extended in radically new ways by the incoming president with, or perhaps even without the support of a Republican-controlled Senate and Congress. However, in terms of trade, Trump may be constrained by his own party’s ‘free trade’ preferences, while the minority Democratic Party is likely to remain generally hostile to him.

Many informed observers doubt the ability of the US President to unilaterally impose trade policies, as the POTUS is subject to many checks and balances, conditions and constraints. But a widely held contrary view is that existing legislation allows the president considerable leeway. But as such ambiguity can be interpreted to grant the president broad authority over trade policy, Trump is likely to use this to the fullest.

Worryingly, Trump and his appointees often appear to see trade as a zero -sum game, implying that the only way for the US to secure its interests would be at the expense of its trading partners. Their rhetoric also implies that the most powerful country in the world has previously negotiated trade deals to its own disadvantage – a view almost no one else agrees with.

Thus, Trump’s belligerent rhetoric threatens trade wars or acquiescence to the US as the only means to change the status quo. But future deals even more favourable to the US can only be achieved with weaker partners, e.g., through bilateral treaties, or those with ulterior motives for accepting even less favourable terms and conditions.

Unequal effects
Of course, the real world is more complicated than one of competing national interests. For example, while US corporations and consumers may benefit from relocating production abroad, American workers who lose their jobs or experience poorer working conditions will be unhappy. Clearly, there is no singular national interest.

Trump’s rhetoric so far implies an opposition of American workers to the ‘globalist’ US elite with scant mention of consumer interests, the main source of support for the globalists. The unequal effects of freer trade have long been recognized by international trade economists except globalization cheerleaders who insist that freer trade lifts all boats – a myth belied by the experiences of increasing numbers of American workers and others in recent decades.

Meanwhile, US protectionists have been in denial about labour-displacing automation throughout the economy. They also fail to recognize how ‘laissez faire’ American capitalism has let the devil take the growing ranks of the hindmost. In contrast, ‘managed’ capitalism has often ensured less disruptive and painful transitions due to trade liberalization and automation, e.g., through government retraining schemes.

Trade rules biased
Nevertheless, it remains unclear how the Trump administration’s trade strategy will unfold. While trading system rules are skewed to favour the powerful, US relations with trading partners have sometimes become dysfunctional and perhaps less advantageous. Hence, a more aggressive Trump administration may well secure better deals for US interests. Some options favouring US companies would only involve minor disruptions, while others could disrupt the US as well as the world economy, possibly precipitating another global recession.

Besides renegotiating or rejecting bilateral and plurilateral deals, the US could also bring more cases before the World Trade Organization (WTO). After all, the US and Europe wrote most WTO rules after the Second World War, and the US has almost never revised its trade rules and practices, even after losing cases. The US has long used the WTO dispute settlement mechanism to great effect until it began disrupting its functioning recently after losing a case.

Trump has long threatened targeted duties to ensure compliance and more favourable deals. While trade lawyers debate the scope for and legality of such actions, most trade economists have argued that US consumers will pay much higher prices to save relatively few jobs.

Triggering trade war
However, instead of imposing duties on specific products, as allowed for by WTO rules, emergency authority may be invoked to impose broad-based tariffs on exports from specific countries, as Trump has threatened to do.

Such an escalation risks causing significant economic damage all round, especially if it provokes retaliatory actions, with no guarantee of securing a more favourable deal. A relatively minor trade dispute can thus easily spin out of control to become a very disruptive global trade war.

After Trump’s inauguration, the White House announced US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, effectively killing the agreement. Ironically, the Obama administration had claimed the TPP would enable the US to write economic rules for the region instead of China, Trump’s favourite bogey. Thus, even presidential one-upmanship can trigger the new world trade war.

Bullying as global trade strategy?
In yet another irony, in Davos last week, a Goldman Sachs veteran announced the sale of a majority stake in his multibillion dollar business to a Chinese group before joining the Trump administration as senior trade adviser. Perhaps as a foretaste of what to expect, in response to Chinese President Xi’s reminder that “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war”, he warned that China stands to lose ‘way more’ than the US if it retaliates when the new administration imposes selective tariffs on its exports.

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Trump Trade Strategy Unclearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-trade-strategy-unclear http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-trade-strategy-unclear/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 15:55:46 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148572 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in  US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

Now that Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, an increase in US trade protectionism is expected, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with unpredictable consequences. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has announced that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement on the first day of his presidency in January 2017. Now, it is widely expected that Trump’s presidency will increase US trade protectionism, and consequently by others in retaliation, possibly triggering serious trade conflicts with difficult to predict consequences.

After decades of denial by ‘free trade’ advocates, it is now widely agreed that many manufacturing jobs in the US have been lost to both automation and offshore relocation by US corporations. Free trade agreements (FTAs) are also being blamed for the US’s large trade deficits.

Trump trade strategy?

With the global economic slowdown of the last eight years associated by many with the slowdown of trade expansion, the surprise election of President-elect Trump has become the subject of much speculation and some dire predictions. Many are concerned that Trump has made various contrarian pronouncements on FTAs, while his appointments to trade related portfolios seem to contradict his trade rhetoric.

In early December 2016, the Wall Street Journal noted the unexpectedly high number of TPP advocates joining the Trump administration to serve in trade-related capacities. Although the hopes of some TPP advocates of a last-minute reprieve are probably misplaced, there is no indication that some amended version, perhaps with a different name, will not eventually emerge in its place.

If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, other plurilateral free trade agreements will also be affected. Trump has referred to the TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as disasters for the US, and has vowed to renegotiate NAFTA. His announced preference for negotiating “fair” bilateral trade deals favourable to the US has not given much comfort to prospective negotiation partners.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with US manufacturing jobs and the related international trade in goods, he is also expected to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, financial liberalization, investor rights and dispute settlement.

Already, most US FTAs include ‘non-trade issues’, many of which have raised costs to consumers, e.g., by further strengthening intellectual property monopolies typically held by powerful transnational corporations, whose chief executives seem likely to be very influential in the new administration.

Currency manipulation
During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Trump accused China of being a “currency manipulator”, despite market consensus that the Chinese renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time. Under US law, evidence of currency manipulation could be grounds to impose additional tariffs on imports from a country so deemed by the Treasury Department. Aware that this could exacerbate trade conflicts, President Obama avoided pressure to do so from many Congress members, lobbyists and economists.

However, Trump can easily revise this position on some pretext or other, by taking trade or other retaliatory actions against China on the ostensible grounds of alleged currency manipulation which would contravene World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, allowing China to successfully take a case against the US to the WTO for such an illegal action.

WTO trade rules abused
Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs of as much as 45% on imports from China and Mexico! But while an across-the-board tariff hike is unlikely, as it is prohibited by the WTO, the new administration is likely to consider invoking WTO trade-remedy actions on products from China, Mexico and other countries by claiming they are being dumped or subsidized. This has already happened, e.g., with solar panels and wind turbines from China, raising the costs of renewable energy, and thus undermining the global warming mitigation effort.

To be sure, WTO trade remedy rules have long been widely abused for protectionist purposes. A country can impose high tariffs on an imported item from another country by claiming its price has been artificially depressed or subsidized by the government in order to export – or ‘dump’ – them at a price lower than the domestic price. No deterrent is imposed against the offending country even if a WTO dispute settlement panel rules that the ostensibly anti-dumping tariff-raising action was wrongly taken, even though the exporting country has lost considerable export earnings in the interim.

Furthermore, similar actions can be repeated without impunity with no threat of penalty. Such ostensible trade-remedy actions are more likely than blatant tariff walls. These may, in turn, trigger retaliatory counter-actions by aggrieved governments, potentially leading to a spiral of trade protectionism, i.e., trade warfare.

Fair trade?
It is unclear how the new administration views FTAs more generally. The President-elect’s objection to the TPP and NAFTA focuses on the goods trade, and the loss of manufacturing jobs due to cheaper imports, often brought in by the same companies which have chosen to relocate production capacities abroad, and are already mobilizing to resist actions which may jeopardize their profits.
This view does not seem to recognize that technological change, particularly with automation, has been the major source of job losses. Many jobs remaining in the US have higher skill requirements, with fewer employees producing more goods with less labour-intensive techniques.

“Fair trade” will be subject to self-serving interpretations by the governments concerned, arguably further undermining trade multilateralism. While freer trade has undoubtedly improved consumer welfare with cheaper imports, it has seen some deindustrialization in the North and industrialization in the South in recent decades with important employment consequences which have been a major source of the current discontent over globalization.

Trade growth slower
To be sure, the trade growth slowdown following the 2008 financial crisis suggests that the U-turn has already taken place after an extraordinary period of trade expansion due to much greater international specialization with the popularization of international value chains.

In December 2015, Obama’s United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman threatened the already difficult Doha Round of WTO trade negotiations by trying to introduce TPP issues which had been kept off the agenda from the outset of the ostensibly Development Round after the Seattle WTO ministerial walkout of 1999.

Perhaps most worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under the auspices of the WTO. Trump’s much-trumpeted preference for bilateral deals favourable to the US is likely to test trade multilateralism as never before.

But President-elect Trump also has a penchant for the unpredictable, and may yet surprise the world with a new commitment to trade multilateralism to advance consumer, producer, and development interests for all.

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Free Trade Agreements Promote Corporate Interestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/free-trade-agreements-promote-corporate-interests/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 10:02:26 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148488 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

Trump's ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals will be problematic for its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity. Credit: IPS

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

So-called free-trade agreements (FTAs) are generally presumed to promote trade liberalization, but in fact, they do much more to strengthen the power of the most influential transnational corporations of the dominant partner involved. While FTAs typically reduce some barriers to the international trade in goods and services, some provisions strengthen private monopolies and corporate power.

Not surprisingly, FTA processes are increasingly widely seen as essentially corrupt. They are typically opaque, especially to the producer and consumer interests affected. The eventual outcomes are often poorly understood by the public and often misrepresented by those pretending to be experts.

For example, many economists from the Peterson Institute of International Economics and the World Bank have continued to claim very significant growth gains from trade liberalization due to the TPPA which have been refuted by US government economists from the Department of Agriculture and International Trade Commission.

And while many in the transnational elite who benefit remain committed to yet more FTAs as means to extend and expand their power and interests, public trust and hope have declined as people become aware of some of their most onerous provisions and likely consequences.

Thus, people are voting against the politicians held responsible for supporting FTAs regardless of their party affiliations. Brexit and the election of Mr. Trump are examples of such global trends.

Do FTAs promote freer trade?
While FTAs may increase trade and trade flows, but are they worth the effort, considering the paltry growth gains generated? There are considerable doubts that some FTA provisions — e.g., those strengthening intellectual rights (IPRs) or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) rules unaccountable to national judiciaries — enhance international trade, economic growth or the public interest.

Greater trade and trade liberalization may potentially improve the welfare of all as well as accelerate growth and structural transformation in developing countries. But such outcomes do not necessarily follow, but need to be ensured through complementary policies, institutions and reforms.

Furthermore, trade liberalization on false premises has also undermined existing productive and export capacities and capabilities without generating new ones in their place, i.e., causing retrogression rather than ensuring progress. Such effects have not only set back economic development, but often, also food security, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Freer and fairer trade without FTAs
More people now realize that trade expansion compatible with welfare and development aspirations can happen without FTAs, e.g., through unilateral measures. This was evident when the US trade embargo on Cuba was dropped, and will happen if US trade relations with Iran improve. Similarly, US-Vietnam trade should expand rapidly in the absence of decades-long discriminatory and onerous US legislation imposed on Vietnam following the end of the War in 1975.

During the recent US presidential campaign, both presidential aspirants attributed the US trade deficit with China to the latter’s alleged currency manipulation. While many developing countries, especially in East Asia, manage their currencies for various reasons, the recent market consensus is that the renminbi has been reasonably aligned for some time, while the currencies of some other countries, mainly US allies in East Asia, are more significantly undervalued. US trade negotiators have long complained that they cannot get enforceable currency rules into any FTA as it is so easily prone to abuse.

More fundamentally, such a solution does not address the underlying problems of the international monetary system which confers an ‘exorbitant privilege’ on the US. With greatly liberalized capital accounts in recent decades, many ‘emerging market economies’ have experienced large and sudden outflows of capital. Hence, they have resorted to the expensive and contractionary practice of so-called ‘self-insurance’, by accumulating huge foreign exchange reserves in case of need for emergency deployment.

This has had substantial opportunity costs for emerging economies as these reserves could have been used more productively instead of keeping them in low-yield US Treasury bonds. Besides transferring seigniorage gains (to the currency issuing government due to the difference between the face value of currency and their production costs) to the US, emerging countries are, in effect, helping to finance US deficits and expenditure.

Multilateralism still best option
If President-elect Trump lives up to his campaign rhetoric, all plurilateral and multilateral free trade agreements will be affected. But his ‘Put America First’ alternative of negotiating bilateral trade deals favourable to the US is also hugely problematic because of the heavy demands it will place on the US as well as its negotiating partners, especially smaller and developing countries with modest negotiating capacity.

And while Trump’s main preoccupations have been with the goods trade and US jobs, there has been no indication so far that he will not continue to promote US corporate interests more generally, e.g., on intellectual property, investor rights, financial liberalization and dispute settlement, as part of ostensible comprehensive trade negotiations. Such concerns have been reinforced by the choice of recent appointees to senior trade-related positions in the new administration.

Determinants of trade flows and patterns are many and varied, including incomes (or, purchasing power), growth rates, tariffs, non-tariff barriers, exchange rates as well as import and export rules. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and other existing multilateral institutions can do much to facilitate greater trade in the interest of all if given a chance to succeed.

Worryingly, there has been no indication so far that the next US administration will not undermine multilateral trade negotiations under WTO auspices. Unfortunately, the current Doha Round of trade negotiations has been prevented by powerful corporate interests and the governments. Concluding a truly progressive trade agreement would not only meet developmental aspirations as well as advance national, public, consumer and producer interests, but would also help ensure a more balanced and robust global economic recovery.

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Looting and Unrest Spread in Mexico Over Gas Price Hikehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/looting-and-unrest-spread-in-mexico-over-gas-price-hike/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 22:07:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148484 Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Exasperated by the government's performance in economic and social matters, thousands of Mexicans have protested since January 1 against the rise in oil prices, in demonstrations that have already left at least six dead, and led to looting and roadblocks. One of the demonstrations had its epicentre in the symbolic Independence Angel, on Paseo de la Reforma, in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jan 11 2017 (IPS)

“We are absolutely fed up with the government’s plundering and arbitrary decisions. We don´t deserve what they’re doing to us,“ said Marisela Campos during one of the many demonstrations against the government´s decision to raise fuel prices.

Campos, a homemaker and mother of two, came to Mexico City from Yautepec, 100 km to the south, to protest the recent economic decisions taken by the administration of conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto.

“Everything’s going to go up because of the gasolinazo“ – the popular term given the 14 to 20 per cent increase in fuel prices as of Jan.1, said Campos, while she held a banner against the measure, in a Monday Jan. 9 demonstration.

The measure unleashed the latent social discontent, with dozens of protests, looting of shops, roadblocks, and blockades of border crossings throughout the country, carried out by trade unions, organisations of farmers, students and shopkeepers.“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people's pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don't read laws, not even those on taxes.“ -- Nicolás Domínguez

The simultaneous price hikes for fuel, electricity and domestic gas were a spark in a climate of discontent over growing impunity, corruption and social inequality.

The protests, which show no signs of subsiding, have led to at least six deaths, some 1,500 people arrested, and dozens of stores looted.

“We are opposed to Peña Nieto’s way of governing. The price rises and budget cutbacks have been going on since 2014. Now there will be an increase in the cost of the basic food basket and transport rates,“ Claudia Escobar, who lives on the south side of Mexico City, told IPS during another demonstration.

Escobar, a mother of three, decided to join the protests because of what she described as “serious social disintegration and turmoil.“

In response to the social discontent, the government argued that the price rises were in response to the increase in international oil prices since the last quarter of 2016, and insisted that without this measure, budget cuts with a much more damaging social impact would have been necessary.
But the rise has its origin more in the elimination of a fuel subsidy which up to 2014 absorbed at least 10 billion dollars a year, as well as in the state-run oil company Pemex’s limited productive capacity.

To this must be added the government’s tax collection policy, where taxes account for 30 per cent of the price of gasoline.

In addition, energy authorities seek to make the fuel market more attractive, because its freeing up is part of the energy reform which came into force in 2014, and opened the oil and power industries to private capital.

Peña Nieto, in office since December 2012, promised Mexicans that this energy reform would guarantee cheap gasoline for the domestic market.

Pemex’s oil extraction has been in decline since 2011, and in 2016 it fell 4.54 per cent in relation to the previous year.

In November, crude oil production amounted to 2.16 million barrels a day, the lowest level in three decades, due to an alleged lack of resources to invest in the modernisation of infrastructure.

Gas and diesel production suffered a similar decline over the past two years, with a 15.38 per cent decrease between 2015 and 2016, when Pemex refined 555,200 barrels equivalent a day of both fuels combined.

This forced a rise in fuel imports, mainly from the United States, with Mexico importing in November 663,300 barrels equivalent a day, 15.88 per cent more than in the same month the previous year.

Traditionally, Pemex contributed 33 per cent of the national budget, but the collapse in international prices since 2014, and its contraction in activity, reduced its contribution to 20 per cent, which compels the government to obtain income from other sources.

For Nicolás Domínguez, an academic at the state Autonomous Metropolitan University, the government is facing the complex situation with “simplistic and incomplete“ explanations.

“It is too big of an increase. It is a very big, direct and precise blow to people’s pockets. They are feeling it. People do not understand the reform, because they don’t read laws, not even those on taxes.“ he told IPS.

But the public “do understand when they go shopping and they can’t afford to buy what they need. That makes them angry. And when they ask for explanations, the government tells them that in United States gasoline prices have gone up, that they have gone up everywhere.”

The common prediction of critics of the gasolinazo is its impact on the cost of living, which in the last few months has been spiraling upwards, with inflation standing at around 3.4 per cent by the end of the year, according to still provisional figures.

The non-governmental organisation El Barzón, which groups agricultural producers, warns that the price of essential goods could climb by 40 per cent over the next months.

“It is likely that there will be serious repercussions on national agricultural production and in households,“ the organisation’s spokesman, Uriel Vargas, told IPS. He predicted that the impact of the rise in fuel prices will be “an increase in the levels of inequality, which are already a major problem.”

For Vargas, “the government must take action to avoid a rise in prices.“

According to 2014 official figures, 46 percent of Mexico’s 122 million people were living in poverty – a proportion that has likely increased in the last two years, social scientists agree.

The gasolinazo canceled out the four percent rise in the minimum wage adopted this month, which brought the monthly minimum to 120 dollars a month.

As demonstrated by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Analyses of the Mexico National Autonomous University, the minimum monthly wage, earned by about six million workers, does not satisfy basic needs.

In its “Research Report 126. The minimum salary: a crime against the Mexican people,“ the Centre concluded that the minimum wage has lost 11 per cent in buying power since Peña Nieto took office.

The study states that it takes three minimum wages just to put food on the table.

To make matters worse, Mexico’s economic growth will range only between 1.5 and 2 per cent, and a further weakening of the economy is possible, according to several projections, due to the impact of the protectionist policies of Donald Trump, who will take office as U.S. president on Jan. 20.

In an attempt to calm things down, Peña Nieto presented this Monday Jan. 9 an “Agreement for Economic Strengthening and Protection of the Domestic Economy,“ which includes a 10 per cent cut in the highest public sector wages.

But for observers, these are merely bandaid measures.

“What the government wants is to calm people down. These are small remedies and what people want is a drop in gas prices. The question is what direction do they want Mexico to move in. If it is about improving the well-being of families, this is not the best way. If the demonstrations spread, the government will have to back down,“ said Domínguez.

For people such as Campos and Escobar, the starting point is reversing the increase in oil prices.

“We will persist until the rise is reverted and there is a change,“ said Campos, while Escobar added “we hope that they understand that we will not stay quiet.“

On February 4 there will be another price adjustment, another spark to the burning plain that Mexico has become.

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Lessons from the Demise of the TPPhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/lessons-from-the-demise-of-the-tpp/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 14:23:32 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148416 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling  has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

Rrealistic macroeconomic modelling has suggested that almost 800,000 jobs could be lost over a decade. Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Jan 5 2017 (IPS)

President-elect Donald Trump has promised that he will take the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the first day of his presidency. The TPP may now be dead, thanks to Trump and opposition by all major US presidential candidates. With its imminent demise almost certain, it is important to draw on some lessons before it is buried.

Fraudulent free trade agreement
The TPP is fraudulent as a free trade agreement, offering very little in terms of additional growth due to trade liberalization, contrary to media hype. To be sure, the TPP had little to do with trade. The US already has free trade agreements, of the bilateral or regional variety, with six of the 11 other countries in the pact. All twelve members also belong to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which concluded the single largest trade agreement ever, more than two decades ago in Marrakech – contrary to the TPPA’s claim to that status. Trade barriers with the remaining five countries were already very low in most cases, so there is little room left for further trade liberalization in the TPPA, except in the case of Vietnam, owing to the war until 1975 and its legacy of punitive legislation.

The most convenient computable general equilibrium (CGE) trade model used for trade projections makes unrealistic assumptions, including those about the consequences of trade liberalization. For instance, such trade modelling exercises typically presume full employment as well as unchanging trade and fiscal balances. Our colleagues’ more realistic macroeconomic modelling suggested that almost 800,000 jobs would be lost over a decade after implementation, with almost half a million from the US alone. There would also be downward pressure on wages, in turn exacerbating inequalities at the national level.

Already, many US manufacturing jobs have been lost to US corporations’ automation and relocation abroad. Thus, while most politically influential US corporations would do well from the TPP due to strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, US workers would generally not. It is now generally believed these outcomes contributed to the backlash against such globalization in the votes for Brexit and Trump.

Non-trade measures

According to the Peterson Institute of International Economics (PIIE), the US think-tank known for cheerleading economic liberalization and globalization, the purported TPPA gains would mainly come from additional investments, especially foreign direct investments, due to enhanced investor rights. However, these claims have been disputed by most other analysts, including two US government agencies, i.e., the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

Much of the additional value of trade would come from ‘non-trade issues’. Strengthening intellectual property (IP) monopolies, typically held by powerful transnational corporations, would raise the value of trade through higher trading prices, not more goods and services. Thus, strengthened IPRs leading to higher prices for medicines are of particular concern.

The TPP would reinforce and extend patents, copyrights and related intellectual property protections. Such protectionism raises the price of protected items, such as pharmaceutical drugs. In a 2015 case, Martin Skrelly raised the price of a drug he had bought the rights to by 6000% from USD12.50 to USD750! As there is no US law against such ‘price-gouging’, the US Attorney General could only prosecute him for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme.

“Medecins Sans Frontieres” warned that the agreement would go down in history as the worst “cause of needless suffering and death” in developing countries. In fact, contrary to the claim that stronger IPRs would enhance research and development, there has been no evidence of increased research or new medicines in recent decades for this reason.

Corporate-friendly
Foreign direct investment (FDI) is also supposed to go up thanks to the TPPA’s ISDS provisions. For instance, foreign companies would be able to sue TPP governments for ostensible loss of profits, including potential future profits, due to changes in national regulation or policies even if in the national or public interest.

ISDS would be enforced through ostensibly independent tribunals. This extrajudicial system would supercede national laws and judiciaries, with secret rulings not bound by precedent or subject to appeal.

Thus, rather than trade promotion, the main purpose of the TPPA has been to internationally promote more corporate-friendly rules under US leadership. The 6350 page deal was negotiated by various working groups where representatives of major, mainly US corporations were able to drive the agenda and advance their interests. The final push to seek congressional support for the TPPA despite strong opposition from the major presidential candidates made clear that the main US rationale and motive were geo-political, to minimize China’s growing influence.

The decision by the Obama administration to push ahead with the TPP may well have cost Hillary Clinton the presidency as she came across as insincere in belatedly opposing the agreement which she had previously praised and advocated. Trade was a major issue in swing states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where concerned voters overwhelmingly opted for Trump.

The problem now is that while the Obama administration undermined trade multilateralism by its unwillingness to honour the compromise which initiated the Doha Development Round, Trump’s preference for bilateral agreements benefiting the US is unlikely to provide the boost to multilateralism so badly needed now. Unless the US and the EU embrace the spirit of compromise which started this round of trade negotiations, the WTO and multilateralism more generally may never recover from the setbacks of the last decade and a half.

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Stop worrying about ‘Doing Business’ rankinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/stop-worrying-about-doing-business-ranking/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 12:28:49 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148273 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008-2015 in New York and Bangkok. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007. ]]> Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking?  Credit: IPS

Garment workers in Bangladesh. Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 2016 (IPS)

Without any hint of irony, the World Bank’s most recent Doing Business Report 2017 promises ‘Equal Opportunity for All’. Bangladesh ranked 176th among 190 economies, below civil war-ravaged Iraq and Syria! Bangladesh even slipped two places from 174 in the 2016 ranking and is three places below its 2015 ranking.

Malaysia, too, slipped five places. The Doing Business Report (DBR) 2017 ranked Malaysia at 23, down from 18 in the previous two reports for 2015 and 2016. Incredibly, this had nothing to do with news of the biggest scandal ever in the country’s history.

Malaysia seems to have slipped because, it had “made starting a business more difficult by requiring that companies with an annual revenue of more than MYR 500,000 register as a GST payer,” and made tax payments more complex “by replacing sales tax with GST”.

Previously, Malaysia was recognized in DBR 2016 for reducing the property tax rate from 12% to 10% of the annual rental value for commercial properties in 2014, even though this contributed negatively to overall government revenue or public finance.

Thus, ‘be damned if you do, and be damned if you don’t’. Countries are asked to raise domestic revenue, but stand to slip in their rankings if they act to raise tax revenues. Taxation may reduce the incentive to invest, but low tax revenue would also hurt the business environment if it reduces government revenue needed to finance public infrastructure, education, healthcare and business services.

Rankings

Should Bangladeshis, Malaysians and others worry about their countries’ downward slide in the ‘Doing Business’ ranking? Should those doing better be elated about their elevation in the rankings? The simple answer is ‘no’, but it really depends.

What do the rankings imply? How does the World Bank compare countries with very different economic structures at different stages of development and with varied capabilities address very diverse problems? By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale.

This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel. It concluded that “The Doing Business report has the potential to be misinterpreted…. It should not be viewed as providing a one-size-fits-all template for development…. The evidence in favour of specific country reforms is contingent on many auxiliary factors not captured by Doing Business report topics.”

By ranking countries, the DBR ignores their heterogeneity and essentially treats them as comparable on a single scale. This serious methodological problem was pointed out by an independent panel in 2013, headed by South Africa’s Vice President and former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
The panel also noted that “the act of ranking countries may appear devoid of value judgement, but it is, in reality, an arbitrary method of summarising vast amounts of complex information as a single number.” It recommended dropping the overall aggregate ranking from the report.

The independent panel had been set up by the Bank in response to heavy criticism of the DBR. Yet, the Bank has chosen to ignore most of the independent panel’s recommendations, especially to drop overall country rankings.

In response to criticisms of overall country ranking, the Bank added a ‘distance to frontier’ measure. Thus, instead of the ordinal measures used for ranking, the ostensible (cardinal) ‘distance’ from the best performance measure for each indicator became the new basis for ranking.

Yet, it does not address the main concern – heterogeneous countries cannot be ranked mechanically. Thus, not surprisingly, the best performers are rich, developed countries.

Ignoring criticisms

Besides the external panel, the World Bank also ignored much of its own internal review. For example, its legal unit has been uneasy about the DBR process and findings.

The unit’s September 2012 internal review of the 2013 DBR questioned the ranking’s ‘manipulation’ and noted the ‘embedded policy preferences’ underlying some indicators. It went so far as to accuse the DBR of bias as it ‘tends to ignore the positive effects of regulation’.

For example, the ‘starting a business’ indicator uses the limited liability corporate form as the only ‘proxy’ for business creation. The legal unit considered this approach ‘deceptive’ as there is no evidence that easing “company formation rules leads to increases in business creation”.

The Bank’s legal unit also argued that the DBR methodology is seriously flawed, highlighting ‘black box’ data gaps, ‘cherry picking’ background papers, and ‘double counting’. The legal team even asked, “are high income the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries placed higher in the Doing Business rankings because they have implemented the (types of) reforms advocated by the report?” In its 26 September 2015 issue, The Economist, usually a cheerleader for pro-business reforms, argued that the DBR ranking did not provide a reliable guide to investors.

Countries have perversely amended regulations to try to improve their ranking in order to impress donors or prospective foreign investors, rather than to actually increase investments and growth. Countries are also likely to do more to favour foreign investments, rather than domestic investments, which are generally more likely to contribute to sustainable development.

Biases

The DBR survey is generally biased against regulations and taxes. Following earlier criticisms, ease of hiring and firing workers and flexibility of working hours are no longer used in the overall ranking, but nonetheless remain in the report, highlighting the authors’ appreciation of such regulations. Conversely, the DBR continues to look unfavourably on a country which seeks to enhance workplace regulations by improving wages, working conditions or occupational safety, or by allowing workers in export processing zones to unionize.

Surprisingly, the DBR does not cover security, corruption, market size, financial stability, infrastructure, skills and other important elements often deemed important for attracting business investments. Moreover, many DBR indicators are considered to be quite superficial. For example, the survey’s credit market indicator does not reflect how well credit is allocated. Similarly, the DBR survey focuses on how difficult it is to get electricity connected without taking into account the state of electricity generation or distribution, which often depends on a country’s level of development.

The DBR approach is very ‘legalistic’ as it mainly looks at formal regulations without considering how such regulations affect SMEs or other investors besides the stereotypical foreign investor. It also ignores, norms and other institutions including extra-legal processes. For example, Mary Hallward-Driemeier of the World Bank and Lant Pritchett of Harvard compared the DBR with the Bank’s firm surveys. They found large gaps between the DBR report and reality.

They also found ‘almost zero correlation’ between DB findings and other Bank surveys of business enterprises. For instance, the average amount of time that companies report spending on three tasks — obtaining construction permits, getting operating licenses and importing goods — is ‘much, much less’ than those cited in the DBR. [http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.29.3.121]

Pritchett, who once worked for the Bank, has argued that developing country policy makers focusing on improving their DBR rankings could divert scarce resources away from more important and urgent reforms, e.g., to help the government better administer, implement and enforce business regulations.

“The pretense that Doing Business measures the real rules, and that if we just modestly improve these Doing Business indicators, they would somehow become the reality of what the rules are and how business is really done — I think that’s a very dangerous fiction.” [http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/08/04/is-the-world-banks-doing-business-report-at-odds-with-how-business-is-done-in-the-developing-world/].

In sum, the DBR assumes that there are universally ‘good’ and ‘bad’ policies regardless of context. This approach clearly misses the need for concrete analysis in specific contexts. Not surprisingly, the DBR continues to promote deregulation as the best strategy for promoting economic growth. To be fair, the Bank acknowledges that the DBR should not be seen as advocating a one-size-fits-all model, but the Bank’s own promotion and coverage of the report suggests otherwise.

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More of the Same: World Bank Doing Business Report Continues to Misleadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/more-of-the-same-world-bank-doing-business-report-continues-to-mislead/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 14:36:10 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148216 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. ]]> Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including  Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

Eight of The World Bank's "Doing Business" report 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ including Kenya, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have, in fact, worsened workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. Credit: IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

The World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2017, subtitled ‘Equal Opportunity for All’, continues to mislead despite the many criticisms, including from within, levelled against the Bank’s most widely read publication, and Bank management promises of reform for many years.

Its Foreword claims, “Evidence from 175 economies reveals that economies with more stringent entry regulations often experience higher levels of income inequality as measured by the Gini index.” But what is the evidence base for its strong claims, e.g., that “economies with more business-friendly regulations tend to have lower levels of income inequality”?

Closer examination suggests that the “evidence” is actually quite weak, and heavily influenced by countries closer to the ‘frontier’, mainly developed countries, most of which have long introduced egalitarian redistributive reforms reflected in taxation, employment and social welfare measures, and where inequality remains lower than in many developing countries.

The report notes that relations between DB scores and inequality ‘differ by regulatory area’. But it only mentions two, for ‘starting a business’ and for ‘resolving insolvency’. For both, higher DB scores are associated with less inequality, but has nothing to say on other DB indicators.

Other studies — by the OECD, IMF, ADB and the United Nations — negatively correlate inequality and the tax/GDP ratio. Higher taxes enable governments to spend more on public health, education and social protection, and are associated with higher government social expenditure/GDP ratios and lower inequality. The DBR’s total tax rate indicator awards the highest scores to countries with the lowest tax rates and other contributions (such as for social security) required of businesses.

Bias
The DBR’s bias to deregulation is very clear. First, despite the weak empirical evidence and the fallacy of claiming causation from mere association, it makes a strong general claim that less regulation reduces inequality. Second, in its selective reporting, the DBR fails to report on many correlations not convenient for its purpose, namely advocacy of particular policies in line with its own ideology.

The World Bank had suspended the DBR’s labour indicator in 2009 after objections — by labour, governments and the ILO — to its deployment to pressure countries to weaken worker protections. But its push for labour market deregulation continues. For example, Tanzania’s score is cut in 2017 for introducing a workers’ compensation tariff to be paid by employers while Malta is penalized for increasing the maximum social security contribution to be paid by employers.

New Zealand beat Singapore to take first place in the latest DBR rankings following reforms reducing employers’ contributions to worker accident compensation. Nothing is said about how it has become a prime location for ‘money-laundering’ ‘shell’ companies.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Belarus, Serbia, Georgia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — eight of DB 2017’s ‘top 10 improvers’ –– have recorded poor and, in some cases, worsening workers’ rights, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. A DBR 2017 annex claims that labour market regulation can ‘reduce the risk of job loss and support equity and social cohesion’, but devotes far more space to promoting fixed term contracts with minimal benefits and severance pay requirements.

In support of its claim of adverse impacts of labour regulations, DBR 2017 cites three World Bank studies from several years ago. Incredibly, it does not mention the extensive review of empirical studies in the Bank’s more recent flagship World Development Report 2013: Jobs, which found that “most estimates of the impacts [of labour regulations] on employment levels tend to be insignificant or modest”.

DBR 2017 adds gender components to its three indicator sets — starting a business, registering property and enforcing contracts — concluding: “For the most part, the formal regulatory environment as measured by Doing Business does not differentiate procedures according to the gender of the business owner. The addition of gender components to three separate indicators has a small impact on each of them and therefore a small impact overall”.

Should anyone be surprised by the DBR’s conclusion? It ignores the fact that the policies promoted by the Bank especially adversely affect women workers who tend to be concentrated in the lowest paid, least unionized jobs, e.g., in garments and apparel production or electronics assembly. The DBR also discourages regulations improving working conditions, e.g., for equal pay and maternity benefits.

Despite its ostensible commitment to ‘equal opportunities for all’, the DBR cannot conceal its intent and bias, giving higher scores to countries that favour corporate profits over citizens’, especially workers’ interests, and national efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Sadly, many developing country governments still bend over backwards to impress the World Bank with reforms to improve their DBR rankings. This obsession with performing well in the Bank’s ‘beauty contest’ has taken a heavy toll on workers, farmers and the world’s poor — the majority of whom are women — who bear the burden of DBR-induced reforms, despite its proclaimed concerns for inequality, gender equity and ‘equal opportunities for all’.

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Why Achieving Sdg Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth Is Critical for Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/why-achieving-sdg-goal-8-on-decent-work-and-economic-growth-is-critical-for-kenya/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 13:06:07 +0000 Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148146 Ms. Mary Kawar is the Director of the ILO Office based in Tanzania and covering Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator to Kenya.]]> UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

UN Staff from Kenya scale Mount Kenya to highlight the SDGs. Credit: UNIC

By Mary Kawar and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 9 2016 (IPS)

In Kenya the Gini coefficient of inequality is at around 0.45%. Therefore, the economic growth statistics present an unequivocal picture of a highly unequal society, whose development strategy is largely leading to accumulation of wealth by a few and worsening the poverty of the majority.

Consider just two statistics behind the picture: according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, individuals in capital city Nairobi have about 15 times more access to secondary education than those living in Turkana, one of the poorest counties. Also, a household in Nairobi is 36 times more likely to have electricity for lighting compared with those in Tana River.

Without doubt, Kenya’s race towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an agenda whose most notable tang of inclusivity is underscored by the now well-known phrase of ‘leaving no one behind’, is going to need the resilience of its world-beating athletes.

The global SDGs agenda is a platform that aims to meet the greatest challenges of our times, with a dedicated focus on every person and the planet and a noble vision of eradicating poverty by 2030.

With an increasing youthful population, Africa stands at a special place in the Agenda, considering that much of the rest of the world population is ageing. Today’s youth will be key to any sustainable development strategies, thus the need to ensure that there are enough opportunities for them to participate in the global economy.

It is estimated that over 600 million new jobs need to be created by 2030, just to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population. That’s around 40 million per year. In Kenya, a million youth enter the job market each year, but only one-fifth are absorbed.

Unfortunately, among those who are ‘employed’ are millions who are working but not earning. It has been reported that about 43% of the country’s youth are either unemployed or working yet living in poverty

It is this phenomenon that has given rise to the agitation for “Decent Work”, which means opportunities for everyone to get work that is productive and which delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families.

A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

This is why SDG Goal 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth is of critical importance for Kenya. There is a need to ensure inclusive equitable economic growth hand in hand with the creation of decent and sustainable jobs. For several years now Kenya has been experiencing exceptional economic growth rates, even above the sub Saharan Africa average. Yet, not enough jobs have been created to absorb the new entrants and informality remains rampant rendering job quality as low.

Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, is found more commonly in higher income countries – and Kenya is no longer a low income country but a middle income one with an annual per capita income of almost $3,000 at purchasing power parity.

Educated unemployment is also more commonly found in countries where advances in education exceed those in the economy. Production techniques change slower than the aspirations of the fast increasing Kenyan middle class fuelled by rising incomes (recently 6 percent annually) and increases in education attainment at all levels.

In other words, Kenya is at a crossroads with economic and employment patterns similar to middle and higher income countries. Yet remaining on the agenda are the high income and regional disparities which need to be addressed.

This attention is clearly called for in the country’s Constitution. For instance, clause 201 states that the public finance system is to promote an equitable society in that revenue raised nationally shall be shared equally between national and county governments, and expenditures will be oriented towards addressing the needs of marginalised groups and regions.

One way of ensuring the attainment of Decent Work for all is through improved labour market governance. Pertinent agenda include the laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour. Labour market governance goes hand in hand with fair working conditions as one of the essential requirements of decent work.

This includes decent wages, hours of work, rest and leave periods, adequate social security, freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, and an absence of discrimination, or child labour. While those in the formal economy may have access to this many in the informal still do not.

Kenya has the potential to be one of Africa’s great success stories for economic growth and the attainment of SDG 8 by 2030: it has a growing youthful population, a dynamic private sector, a dynamic and progressive new constitution and a pivotal role in Africa.

President Kenyatta in an address to Kenya’s youth said. “You are my partners in remaking Kenya – and my Government’s programmes reflect my faith in you,”

Addressing challenges of poverty, inequality, labour market governance, labour productivity to achieve rapid, inclusive sustained growth with decent jobs will not only transform lives of ordinary citizens, but make Kenya an economic powerhouse.

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Fiscal Austerity Has Been Blocking Economic Recoveryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fiscal-austerity-has-been-blocking-economic-recovery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fiscal-austerity-has-been-blocking-economic-recovery http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fiscal-austerity-has-been-blocking-economic-recovery/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:19:31 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148140 Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former United Nations assistant secretary-general for economic development, was awarded the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

Inflation, public debt, and growing income inequality have hindered economic recovery in the Global South. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

Instead of concerted and sustained efforts for a strong, sustained economic recovery to overcome protracted stagnation, the near policy consensus on fiscal austerity in the G7 and the G20 OECD countries, except for the US and Japan, has dragged down economic recovery in developing countries.

After seven years of lackluster economic performance and rising tensions over the Eurozone straightjacket on fiscal stimuli, there are signs of a growing willingness to reconsider earlier policies. While it is not yet clear whether this will lead to significant enough policy changes, this may well led to the long awaited turning point the world economy has sorely needed since the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing Great Recession.

Quixotic windmills of the mind
Opponents of fiscal stimulus cynically claim that all such efforts are bound to fail, citing, as evidence, then US President George W Bush’s 2008 tax cuts. Others deny that the US Fed’s ‘quantitative easing’ efforts have been successful, emphasizing the weak basis of its apparently “strong” recovery compared to other G7 economies. While undoubtedly mitigating the impact of the crisis at the outset, Europe’s “automatic stabilizers” are now acknowledged not to have sustained recovery very much beyond 2009.

The first bogey has been public debt. Much has been made of high levels of sovereign debt on both sides of the Atlantic and in Japan although the fiscal challenge remains long-term, not immediate. While Japan has the highest debt-to-GDP ratio among rich countries, this is not a serious problem as its yen-denominated debt is mainly domestically held.

The international community has, so far, failed to develop effective and equitable arrangements for restructuring sovereign debt, despite the clearly dysfunctional and problematic consequences of past international public debt crises. This prevents timely debt workouts, effectively impeding economic recovery.

High public debt has also been invoked in support of fiscal austerity in many developed countries. But, rather than helping, the rush to cutting expenditure is blocking, or even reversing earlier recovery efforts. With private sector demand still weak, austerity is slowing down, not accelerating, recovery.

Another distraction has been the exaggerated threat of inflation. Recent inflation in many countries was the result of higher commodity prices, especially fuel and food prices. In these circumstances, domestic deflationary policies only slowed growth and failed to stem imported inflation. This is now evident with the recent collapse of oil prices and its aftermath.

Formula for Stagnation
Unfortunately, the urgent task at hand — of coordinating and implementing efforts to raise and sustain growth and job creation — continues to be ignored. Meanwhile, cuts in social and welfare spending, demanded by the austerity fetish, are only making things worse, as employment and consumer demand fall further.

The pressure on employment and household budgets is likely to persist. Strident calls for structural reforms mainly target labour markets, rather than product markets. Growing worker insecurity, exacerbated by further labour market liberalization, is imagined to be the basis for a healthy economy. This belief not only undermines remaining social protection, but is also likely to diminish real incomes, aggregate demand, and, hence, recovery prospects.

It has already reduced growth and employment. And, while financial markets insist on deficit reduction, the recent decline in equity and bond prices — and the loss of confidence that this reflects — suggests that they also recognize the adverse implications of fiscal consolidation at a time of weak private demand.

Slower growth means less revenue and a faster downward spiral. Most major countries’ fiscal deficits nowadays reflect the collapse of tax revenues following the growth collapse, as well as very costly bank bailouts.

Policy U-Turn Needed
Current policy is justified as ‘pro-market’, i.e. effectively pro-cyclical choices, although counter-cyclical efforts, institutions and instruments are sorely needed instead. Global leadership today seems to be held hostage by financial interests and associated media, ideologues and oligarchs whose political influence enables them to secure more rents and pay lower taxes in what must truly be the most vicious of circles.

Many policymakers have insisted on immediate action, not only to close fiscal deficits, but also, trade imbalances and banks’ balance-sheet weaknesses. While these need to be addressed in the longer term, prioritizing them now has effectively stymied stronger, sustained recovery efforts.

Bad public policies can induce recessions. This happened in 1980-1981, when the US Federal Reserve raised real interest rates, ostensibly to kill inflation, but inducing a protracted global economic downturn. 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’.

Inequality
Moreover, according to Piketty, in recent decades, profits have risen, not only at the expense of wages, but also with much more accruing to finance, insurance, and real estate compared to other sectors. The outrageous increases in financial executives’ remuneration in recent decades have exacerbated financial sector focus on the short term (recently termed ‘quarterly capitalism’), while worsening risk exposure in the longer term, thereby worsening systemic vulnerability.

Growing income inequality in most countries before and even after the financial crisis has only made matters worse, by reducing household savings and increasing credit for consumption and asset purchases, rather than augmenting investment in new economic capacity.

Indeed, the menace that now confronts us is not public debt or inflation, but a downward economic spiral that will be increasingly difficult to reverse. The international financial institutions were created after World War II 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.

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Ensuring Shared Progress for Sustainable Development and Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 23:15:50 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147948 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]> Concern about equality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. Credit: IPS

Concern about equality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

International inequality has grown over recent centuries, especially the last two. Before the Industrial Revolution, between-country inequalities were small, while within-country inequalities accounted for most of overall global income inequality. Now, inter-country income inequalities account for about two-thirds of world inequality with intra-country inequality accounting for a third.

Concern about inequality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. World War II was no exception. Thus, on 10th May 1944, the International Labour Congress adopted the historic Philadelphia Declaration which asserted that “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”.

Similar concerns were on the agenda of the Bretton Woods Conference two months later. The conference sought to create conditions for enduring peace by ensuring post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development through sustained growth, full employment and declining inequality. Bretton Woods created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) with this mandate foremost.

The IMF would support countries, not only in overcoming balance of payments difficulties, but also “to direct economic and financial policies toward the objective of fostering orderly economic growth with reasonable price stability, with due regard to its circumstances”. The IBRD, later better known as the World Bank, was set up to support long-term investment and development.

The world then saw almost three decades of shared prosperity as labour’s share of output increased. This Golden Age also saw greater investment in health, education and public services, including social welfare. This post-war consensus endured for over a quarter century before breaking down in the 1970s, only to be replaced in the 1980s by its anti-thesis, the Washington Consensus.

Counter-Revolution
Unfortunately, each era, no matter how successful, sows the seeds of its own demise. Three major new economic ideas helped undermine the post-war consensus underlying the Golden Age:
• the higher propensity to save (and invest) of profit makers, compared to wage earners, became the pretext for the tolerance, if not promotion of inequality in favour of profits, ostensibly to accelerate investment and growth;
• progressive redistribution was deemed bad for growth, as it not only lowers savings and investment rates, but also requires significant fiscal resources, raising tax rates and diverting fiscal resources from investments desired by investors;
• the Kuznets’ hypothesis suggested the inevitability of inequality rising with growth (before eventually declining).

From the early 1980s, the “Washington Consensus” – the policy consensus on economic development shared by the American establishment and the Bretton Woods institutions located in the US capital city – emerged as the banner for the counter-revolutions against development economics, Keynesian economics and progressively redistributive state interventions.

A relentless push for deregulation, privatization and economic globalization followed. Such measures were supposed to boost growth, which would eventually trickle down, thus reducing poverty. Hence, there was no need to worry about inequality.

Macroeconomic policies became narrowly focused on balancing the annual budget and attaining low single digit inflation – instead of the previous emphasis on sustained growth and full employment with reasonable price stability.

But these ‘neo-liberal’ measures largely failed to deliver sustained growth. Instead, financial and banking crises have become more frequent, with more devastating consequences, exacerbated by greater tolerance for inequality and destitution.

The new global priorities at the end of the Second World War remain relevant today. Research has disproved the previously widespread presumption that progressive redistribution retards growth. Even recent IMF and World Bank research acknowledges that inequality and social exclusion are detrimental to growth. After more than three decades of regression, we have to recommit ourselves to the more egalitarian ethos of the Philadelphia Declaration and the Bretton Woods conference.

Marshall Plan
At the beginning of the Cold War against the Soviet bloc, US Secretary of State General George Marshall announced a reconstruction plan for war-torn Europe. Known as the Marshall Plan, the generous infusion of US aid and acceptance of national reconstruction and development policies ensured the rebirth of modern Western Europe. For many Europeans, this is still seen as America’s finest hour.

In the decade that followed, the Marshall Plan became what is probably the most successful economic development assistance project in history. Similarly appropriate economic development policies were introduced in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea following the Korean War and establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Thus, the Marshall Plan created a cordon sanitaire to contain the spread of communism as the Cold War began.

The Marshall Plan experience offers valuable lessons for today. Europe was rebuilt with policies that included economic interventions such as high duties, quotas and other non-tariff barriers. Free trade was delayed until after international competitiveness had been achieved.

Marshall’s lecture offers other relevant lessons. Unlike today’s conventional wisdom, he argued that viable institutions would only emerge from economic progress, not the other way around. Marshall also emphasized that aid should be truly developmental, not piecemeal or palliative. The productive capacities and capabilities of developing nations have to be nurtured. Marshall knew that inclusive and shared economic progress is the only way to create lasting peace.

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Inequality and Its Discontentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/inequality-and-its-discontents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-and-its-discontents http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/inequality-and-its-discontents/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 16:08:27 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147831 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was an Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]> Although class has not declined in significance, by shaping the institutional context, political geography has become a key determinant of income. Credit: IPS

Although class has not declined in significance, by shaping the institutional context, political geography has become a key determinant of income. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

Global income inequality among different regions began to increase about five centuries ago, before accelerating about two centuries ago, according to the great economic historian Angus Maddison. After the brief reversal during the ‘Golden Age’ quarter century after the Second World War, higher commodity prices in the decade until 2014, despite protracted slowdowns in most rich countries following the 2008 financial crisis, reduced international disparities between North and South.

Before the Industrial Revolution, inequalities among regions were relatively small, while within-‘country’ inequalities accounted for most of overall global income inequality. But inter-country income inequalities now account for about two-thirds of world inequality, with intra-country inequality accounting for a third.

Short 20th century
National income distribution trends do not necessarily follow those for global income inequality. National level inequality in 22 developed economies grew up to the second decade of the 20th century, with inequality declining thereafter until the 1970s. The trend then reversed again with the market fundamentalist counter-revolution and changing role of the state in recent decades.

The general trend for these countries is quite clear, but does not hold for all other countries. For example, many developing countries fared badly in the 1920s and 1930s as primary commodity prices fell, especially during the Great Depression.

The late historian Eric Hobsbawm famously described the period from the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, as the ‘short twentieth century’. Other pundits identify the end of the First World War, or the creation of the ILO in 1919, as an alternative starting point for Karl Polanyi’s ‘second movement’.

For many, the ascendance of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan led the ‘neo-liberal’ counter-revolution against the post-World War Two ‘Golden Age’ marked by decolonization, Keynesianism, the welfare state, agrarian reforms and rapid employment expansion.

Washington Consensus
The ‘Washington Consensus’ from the early 1980s – shared by different branches of the US government and the Bretton Woods institutions located in the American capital – brought an end to earlier policy interventions associated with Keynesian and development economics.

The breakdown of the international monetary system and other developments of the 1970s led to ‘stagflation’ – economic stagnation despite high inflation — in much of the West while growth accelerated in other regions, notably East Asia. The US Fed raised interest rates sharply from 1980, inducing an international recession, and eventually, fiscal and sovereign debt crises in some developing countries and ‘communist’ economies. High debt and the Volcker-induced interest rate spike forced many governments to pursue macro-financial stabilization policies to defeat inflation besides microeconomic structural adjustment policies.

But the so-called Washington Consensus was not really about market liberalization, as little was done to check, let alone undermine private oligopolistic and oligopsonistic trends. Instead, despite the market rhetoric, neo-liberalism is really about strengthening property rights and capturing rents.

This involved a shift away from public authority and coordination, redefining the role of the state and enhancing private power. Good governance in the new order means upholding the rule of law, especially strengthening property rights and related privileges and entitlements. To secure political support, it appeals to all as consumers, and to all asset-owners, including petty ones and rentiers seeking to maximize net income flows by minimizing rent-seeking costs. Not surprisingly then, recent trends in the functional distribution of income reflect a declining share for labour despite rising labour productivity.

Labour solidarity?
This disconnect between labour productivity and income is not unfamiliar to developing economies with high unemployment and underemployment. In such labour markets, characterized by ‘unlimited supplies of labour’ associated with economics laureate Arthur Lewis, productivity gains did not translate into higher wages, or a ‘producer surplus’, but instead lowered prices, contributing to the ‘consumer surplus’. This contrasts sharply with strong labour market institutions where wages rise with productivity.

Growing wealth concentration in recent decades reflects enhanced rentier power in most economic sectors and activities as well as the ascendance and globalization of finance in recent decades. Rentier income flows from legally sanctioned monopolies associated with intellectual property rights have grown greatly in recent years, increasingly capturing productivity gains at the expense of labour.

Although class has not declined in significance, by shaping the institutional context, political geography has become a key determinant of income. This not only helps explain the continuing strong economic incentive for international migration, but also the growing barriers to such movement, often supported by those who feel threatened about losing their privileges.

Not surprisingly, international labour solidarity has become much more difficult, while foreign advocacy of labour rights or the environment is treated with suspicion as self-interested, or even as protection by another name.

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A Cuban Economy Facing Grim Forecasts Awaits Impact of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 22:54:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147782 Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Cuba’s economic difficulties will be aggravated by the uncertainty regarding how U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will deal with the thaw inherited from President Barack Obama.

Experts consulted by IPS preferred not to speculate. But they did recommend that the Cuban authorities adopt all measures within their reach to cushion the blow and reinforce what has been achieved on the economic front with the outgoing U.S. administration.

“In any case, Cuba will have to continue moving forward with its economic reforms and try to resolve whatever has clearly not functioned for decades and is within our reach to fix,” said Cuban economist Pável Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests. He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.” – Ricardo Torres

Vidal is studying the economic reforms implemented since 2008 by the government of Raúl Castro, which has been facing major difficulties this year due to liquidity problems and oil shortages caused by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, this country’s main trading partner and energy supplier.

In the first six months of this year, GDP grew just one percent, half of what was expected. And forecasts for the rest of 2016 are bleak, projecting a drop of one percent.

Further muddying the picture are the doubts with respect to the recently restored relations with the United States, now that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was defeated by her Republican rival in the Nov. 8 elections.

“With regard to Cuba, I don’t think (Trump) will roll back the important steps taken by the Obama administration to normalise relations between the two countries,” John Gronbeck-Tedesco, assistant professor of American Studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey, told IPS by email.

“But with a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s harder to know when the United States will fully commit to lifting the embargo and truly open up trade between the two countries,” said the academic, the author of the book “Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930-1975”.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, consists of a complex web of laws that can only be fully repealed by Congress.

Cuba sees the embargo as the biggest obstacle it faces to development and a normalisation of ties with its giant neighbour to the north.

Since the start of the move towards reestablishing bilateral ties, in December 2014, Obama has taken measures to undermine the embargo and attempted to protect his efforts by means of Presidential Policy Directive 43 on the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba, issued on Oct. 14.

He even took an enormous symbolic step on Oct. 26, when for the first time in 25 years the United States abstained in the United Nations vote on the resolution that Cuba has presented annually since 1992, condemning the U.S. embargo, which it blames for 125.873 billion dollars in losses.

 Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Obama said his aim was to make the opening to Cuba “irreversible”. But just a week before the election, Trump said “We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom.”

But the business community and Cuban-Americans are largely in favour of the thaw, as analysts in both countries have been pointing out.

In Gronbeck-Tedesco’s view, “The United States will continue treating Cuba and Venezuela as separate political issues. And since Venezuela is still suffering from economic and political uncertainty, Trump’s plans would not appear to include an improvement in relations with Venezuela or help in rebuilding that country.”

In a reaction that observers like Vidal describe as “tardy”, Havana appears to be pushing for more foreign investment, especially in the energy industry, which is heavily dependent on the shrinking deliveries of Venezuelan crude.

“The tendency is for foreign investment in energy to pick up speed,” Juan Manuel Presa, an official at Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told IPS. “There are a large number of projects in different stages of progress to use renewable sources, mainly wind and solar power.”

The engineer said the industry “is seeking a diversity of partners in a diversity of formulas: external financing of Cuban projects, companies that are made up 100 percent of foreign capital, and the new legal status of mixed – Cuban and foreign – companies.”

Cuba is still far from its goal of drawing 2. 5 billion dollars a year in foreign investment – the amount needed to put the economy on a steady footing. The 83 projects approved since a new law on foreign investment went into effect in 2014 have attracted just 1.3 billion dollars so far.

But to some extent, the thaw is easing the tense economic situation in this country.

Between 2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars in remittances from abroad flow into Cuba annually, mainly coming from the Cuban-American community, according to estimates by Cuban economist Juan Triana.

Only exports of medical services bring in more hard currency revenues, he said.

Another major source of hard currency is tourism. Cuba’s colonial cities and white sand beaches are experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom, with the number of visitors from the U.S. growing every month, despite the fact that they can only travel here under one of 12 approved categories, such as family visits, academic programs, professional research, journalistic or religious activities.

In the first half of this year, Cuba received 2,147,912 visitors from abroad, including 136,913 from the U.S. This latter number was 80 percent higher than the total for the first half of 2015, according to the national statistics office, ONEI.

In that period, tourism brought in more than 1.2 billion dollars, only counting public installations, not the growing private sector, which rents out rooms and runs taxis and restaurants.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres showed IPS a novel analysis on the U.S. president-elect, who was widely criticised during the campaign for his racist, xenophobic and misogynistic remarks.

“There are three aspects (of Trump) that could benefit relations with Cuba,” the academic researcher said.

“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests,” he said. “He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.”

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Privatization Cure Often Worse Than Maladyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/privatization-cure-often-worse-than-malady/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=privatization-cure-often-worse-than-malady http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/privatization-cure-often-worse-than-malady/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2016 14:12:44 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147610 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was a UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development. Anis Chowdhury is Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, and held various senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok. ]]> Privatization has not provided the miracle cure for the  problems (especially the inefficiencies) associated with the public sector. Credit: IPS

Privatization has not provided the miracle cure for the problems (especially the inefficiencies) associated with the public sector. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, Nov 3 2016 (IPS)

Privatization of SOEs has been a cornerstone of the neo-liberal counterrevolution that swept the world from the 1980s following the economic crisis brought about by US Fed’s sharp hike in interest rates. Developing countries, seeking aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, often had to commit to privatization as a condition for credit support.

The World Bank and the IMF then attributed developing countries’ inability to adjust to the external shocks of that time, inter alia, to their import-substituting industrial policy initiatives and the inefficiency of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Hence, their support came with conditions to undertake measures for ‘stabilization’ and ‘structural adjustment’.

Privatization was seen and advocated as an easy means to accelerate growth, improve efficiency and productivity, shrink the public sector and associated debt, as well as reduce governments’ financial and administrative responsibilities and activities. However, the privatization experiences of the last three and a half decades, especially for developing countries, have been anything but glorious.

Mixed experiences
Privatization has not provided the miracle cure for the problems (especially the inefficiencies) associated with the public sector. And the public interest has rarely been effectively served by private interests taking over public-sector activities. More recently, growing concern over adverse consequences of privatization has spawned research worldwide.

Privatization was supposed to free market forces and encourage competition in the economy, but the new owners have an interest in retaining the SOE’s ‘competitive advantages’, including monopoly positions. Hence, there has been widespread concern about: (i) formal and informal collusion, e.g. cartel-like agreements; (ii) collusion in bidding for procurement contracts and other such opportunities; and (iii) some interested parties enjoying special influence and privileged information.

Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Rod Sims, a strong supporter of privatization for three decades, recently confessed that “he is on the verge of becoming a privatisation opponent” (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 July 2016). According to him, selling public assets has created unregulated monopolies that hurt productivity and damage the economy.

Adverse consequences
As a matter of fact, both the IMF and World Bank were aware of such likely adverse impacts of privatization. For example, a 1999 IMF research paper acknowledged that privatization “can lead to job losses, wage cuts and higher prices for consumers”. Similarly, World Bank research on the experiences of Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Turkey in 1997 found large-scale employment losses when big SOEs were privatized.

Comparative data from the US, UK, Canada, Chile, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for 1999-2004 found that privatization disproportionately affected female workers. IMF and World Bank safety-net or compensation proposals were either too costly for the public exchequer or too administratively burdensome for many developing countries.

Privatization may postpone a fiscal crisis by temporarily reducing fiscal deficits, but the public-sector would lose income from profitable public-sector activities, and be left to finance and subsidize unprofitable ones. For example, Sydney Airport paid no tax in the first ten years after it was privatized even when it earned almost A$8 billion; instead, it received tax benefits of almost A$400 million!

No solution
Privatization in many developing and transition economies has primarily enriched a few with strong political connections who ‘captured’ profitable opportunities associated with privatization, while the public interest has been sacrificed to such powerful private business interests. This has, in turn, exacerbated problems of corruption, patronage, and other related problems.

In most cases, privatization did not solve the problem of governments’ fiscal deficits. Instead, governments lost vital revenue sources. In most cases, profitable SOEs were sold as prospective private owners were only interested in securing profits. Fiscal crises have often been exacerbated when new private owners used ‘creative accounting’ to avoid tax and secure tax credits. Thus, in most cases, privatization has been the problem, rarely the solution to the government’s fiscal crisis or SOE problems.

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Are Public Enterprises Necessarily Inefficient?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/are-public-enterprises-necessarily-inefficient/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2016 14:22:57 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147537 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 27 2016 (IPS)

From the 1980s, various studies purported to portray the public sector as a cesspool of abuse, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption. Books and articles with pejorative titles such as ‘vampire state’, ‘bureaucrats in business’ and so on thus provided the justification for privatization policies. Despite the caricature and exaggeration, there were always undoubted horror stories which could be cited as supposedly representative examples. But similarly, by way of contrast, other experiences show that SOEs can be run quite efficiently, even on commercial bases, confounding the dire predictions of the prophets of public sector doom.

SOE inefficiency

To be sure, unclear and contradictory objectives – e.g. to simultaneously maximize sales revenue, address disparities, generate employment, etc. – often meant ambiguous performance criteria, many open to abuse. Often, SOE failure on one criterion (e.g., cost efficiency) was justified on the grounds of fulfilling other objectives (e.g., employment generation). However, the ambiguity of objectives is not necessarily due to public or state ownership per se.

Problems of co-ordination among various government agencies and inter-departmental rivalries also played a role. Some consequences included ineffective monitoring, inadequate accountability, or alternatively, over-regulation. ‘Moral hazard’ has also been a problem as SOE management’s expected sustained financial support from the government, come what may attributed to weak fiscal discipline or ‘soft budget constraints’.

Often, SOE managements lacked adequate or relevant skills but were constrained from addressing them expeditiously. But privatization does not automatically solve the problem of lack of managerial skills. Similarly, privatization of SOEs which are natural monopolies (e.g. public utilities) will not solve problems of inefficiency due to the monopolistic or monopsonistic nature of the industry or market.

Can SOE inefficiency be improved?

Improvements in SOE management must be required by the national political leadership and can be enabled by increased enterprise and administrative autonomy as well as new incentive systems. Such changes do not require privatization as a prerequisite, but can be achieved by greater decentralization or devolution of administrative authority.

Many SOEs enjoyed monopoly or monopsony powers de jure or de facto, often providing cover for inefficiencies and other abuses. Hence, competition and enterprise reorganization – rather than mere changes in ownership status – are more likely to induce greater enterprise efficiency. Instead of presuming that privatization is the only solution, reformers should consider the variety of modes of enterprise reform, privatization, marketization and other measures as options for improving the public sector.

With such an approach, privatization becomes one among several options available to the government for dealing with the undoubted malaise of many public sectors. After all, there may well be instances where privatization offers the superior option (e.g., the Hungarian privatization of retail shops), but this should be the policy conclusion after serious consideration of all options available rather than the default option it has become in recent decades.

Options need consideration

Remember that many SOEs were set up precisely because the private sector was believed to be unable or unwilling to provide certain services or goods. Such arguments may still be relevant in some cases, but no longer relevant in other cases, and perhaps, never even true or relevant in yet other cases.

Many SOEs have undoubtedly proven to be problematic, often inefficient. However, privatization has not proved to be the universal panacea for the myriad problems of the public sector it was touted to be.

In many instances, the problem with an SOE is not due to ownership per se, but rather to the absence of explicit, feasible or achievable objectives, or even to the existence of too many, often contradictory goals. In other cases, the absence of managerial and organizational systems (e.g., flexibility, autonomy) and cultures supportive of such goals and objectives may be the key problem.

Privatization may facilitate the achievement of such organizational goals or objectives with the changes it may bring about in train, but this does not necessarily mean that privatization per se is responsible for the improvements. In such cases, managerial and organizational reforms may well achieve the same objectives and goals, or even do better, at a reduced cost, and thus prove to be the superior option.

However, the superior option cannot be presumed a priori, but should instead be the outcome of careful consideration of the roots of an organization’s malaise.

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Privatization the Problem, Rarely the Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/privatization-the-problem-rarely-the-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=privatization-the-problem-rarely-the-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/privatization-the-problem-rarely-the-solution/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:02:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147445 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]>

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

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

Privatization has been one of the pillars of the counter-revolution against development economics and government activism from the 1980s. Many developing countries were forced to accept privatization as a condition for support from the World Bank while many other countries have embraced privatization, often on the pretext of fiscal and debt constraints.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Privatization generally refers to changing the status of a business, service or industry from state, government or public ownership to private control. It sometimes also refers to the use of private contractors to provide services previously delivered by the public sector.

Privatization can be strictly defined to include only cases of the sale of 100%, or at least a majority share of a public or state-owned enterprise (SOE), or its assets, to private shareholders. The definition of privatization in some contexts is so broad that it includes cases where private enterprises are awarded licences to participate in activities previously the exclusive preserve of the public sector.

Why the turn to privatization?
The balance of payments problems arising from oil shocks in the 1970s and the US Fed’s increase of the interest rate to well over 20% precipitated sovereign debt crises in Latin America and elsewhere from the early 1980s, forcing many developing countries to seek credit support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

The World Bank and IMF’s ‘neo-liberal’ policy prescriptions involved liberalization, deregulation and privatization. Collectively, they later came to be known as the Washington Consensus to refer to the common position of three Washington DC based institutions – the US Treasury, the IMF and the World Bank.

Main arguments for privatization
Privatization was advocated as an easy means to:
1) reduce the ‘financial and administrative burden of the government’, particularly in undertaking and maintaining services and infrastructure;
2) ‘promote competition, improve efficiency and increase productivity’ in the delivery of public services;
3) ‘stimulate private entrepreneurship and investment’, and thus accelerate economic growth;
4) help reduce ‘the presence and size of the public sector, with its monopolistic tendencies and bureaucratic support’.

Public or consumer welfare
Since a significant portion of state-run activities are public monopolies, privatization will hand over such monopoly powers to private interests likely to use them to maximize profits. The privatization of public services tends to burden the public, especially if charges are raised for privatized services which may not improve with privatization.

Private interests are only interested in profitable or potentially profitable activities and enterprises. Thus, the government will be saddled with unprofitable and less profitable activities, reinforcing the impression of SOE inefficiencies. Consequently, privatization may worsen overall enterprise performance. ‘Value for money’ may go down, despite improvements used to justify higher user charges.

Privatization in many developing and transition economies has primarily enriched a few with strong political connections who ‘captured’ lucrative opportunities associated with privatization, while the public interest has been increasingly sacrificed to such powerful private business interests. This has, in turn, exacerbated problems of corruption, patronage and other related problems.

Adverse consequences
Some other adverse consequences of privatization include:
– The social and political implications of two types of services, i.e. one for those who can afford more costly, private – including privatized – services, and the other for those who cannot, and hence have to continue to rely on subsidized public services, e.g. medical services and education.
– The effects of minimal long-term investments by private owners narrowly focused on maximizing short-term profits.
– Increased living costs as well as poorer services and utilities – especially in remote and rural areas – due to ‘economic costing’ of services, e.g. telecommunications, water supply and electricity.
– Reduced jobs, overtime work and real wages for employees of privatized concerns.

Flawed arguments
Arguments for privatization can be refuted on the following grounds:
• The public sector can be more efficiently run, as demonstrated in Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea.
• Greater public accountability and a more transparent public sector can ensure greater efficiency in achieving the public and national interest while limiting public-sector waste and borrowing.
• Privatization may postpone a fiscal crisis by temporarily reducing fiscal deficits, but the public sector would lose income from profitable public sector activities, and be stuck with financing and subsidizing unprofitable ones. As experience shows, the fiscal crisis may even deepen if the new owners of profitable SOEs avoid paying taxes with creative accounting or due to the typically generous terms of privatization.
• Privatization gives priority to profit maximization, typically at the expense of social welfare, equity and the public interest. It tends to adversely affect the interests of public-sector employees and the public, especially poorer consumers.
• Public pressure to ensure the equitable distribution of share ownership (e.g., ‘voucher privatization’) may inadvertently undermine pressures to improve corporate performance since each shareholder would then only have small equity stakes, and would therefore be unlikely to incur the high costs of monitoring management and corporate performance.
• By diverting private capital from productive new investments to buying over public sector assets, economic growth would be retarded rather than enhanced.

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