Megatrends are shaping the world and of course geopolitics as well and we are most of the time unaware of this. Demography, migration, sustainability (environmental and budgetary) are key issues for Europe and the world from a long term perspective. It is lesser known that megatrends often develop by cycles of different types and lengths.
Nikolai Kondratiev was exiled to the Russian Gulag and executed in 1938 because Stalin did not like his views on the Soviet economy and his theory of economic cycles. How accurate and powerful Kondratiev’s theory was is demonstrated not so much by Stalin’s rage as by the fact that history is cyclical: war followed by peacetime, economic boom by recession, political tranquility by political crisis.
Academics probe into past cycles because they want to be able to predict the future. Why are there cycles in the first place? Why is expansion followed by stagnation and then recession? Simply because production or human output is not constant, but there is a mysterious equilibrium, a certain level which production should not fall short of or exceed. The economy is unaware of this tipping point and when it deviates from the equilibrium, markets crash and an overproduction or overvaluation crisis breaks out. Long periods of economic boom are inevitably followed by a bust and recession. The problem is we never know when and how hard the next crisis will hit. At the height of the crisis in late 2008, the Queen of England asked a simple but pertinent question of her country’s brightest minds. Visiting the London School of Economics, she wondered out loud: “Gentlemen! Why did no one foresee this awful recession?” Of course no one could give a straight answer; the eminent economists just stared at their shoes. A lot of people are convinced that the cycles and crises of the past could provide some guidance. Economists started to investigate economic cycles in the middle of the 19th century, discovering medium-term cycles first and then long-term cycles in the early 20th century. The four main types of economic cycles are known as the Kitchin wave, the Juglar wave, the Kondratiev wave and the Braudel wave. There are innumerous other types — every economist studying cyclical fluctuations was keen to have one named after themselves — but the others do not really deserve attention.
The Kitchin inventory cycle, is a short business cycle of about 40 months. Inventories fluctuate as the short-term approach of businesses influences their stocking and destocking policy. The cycle named after Joseph Kitchin, which is not a proper macroeconomic cycle, is followed by the Juglar cycle, often identified as ”the” business cycle. In 1860, French economist Clement Juglar identified the presence of economic cycles 7 to 13 years long. The low point of such a cycle is marked by an overproduction or financial crisis.
The Juglar cycle is the only one that politics can respond to, simply because this is the longest timeframe that successive governments can comprehend. When we talk about anticyclical policy, economic stimulus plans and recovery packages, we talk about the vicious side of this wave.
The third cycle on our list is called the Kondratiev or long technological wave. The Kondratiev wave spans a period of 50 to 60 years and is divided into a phase of high-growth expansion and a phase of recession. How did Kondratiev discover these waves? He observed prices, wages, interest rates, industrial production and the use of raw materials in the USA, England and France. A thorough analysis of these data revealed a sinusoid running through 150 years. Kondratiev noted that turning points in the wave coincided with revolutions and wars. Some divide the Kondratiev wave into four ”seasons”. The Kondratiev Spring is a time of rapid growth, falling unemployment, improving productivity and relatively stable prices. The economy is in its youth. The Kondratiev Summer sees growth level off as the economy reaches its limits in output and resources, and with it a brief recession as a warning of things to come. The brief recession in the Indian summer shakes up the economy as the Kondratiev Autumn arrives. Stability and normalcy is restored in society, which becomes consumption-oriented and prices begin to soar. With the Kondratiev Winter comes a collapse of the system and brumal depression sets in. A major three to four-year crisis is followed by a decade of deflationary stagnation.
There are several explanations for the Kondratiev wave. Some say that it exists because every generation spends 25 to 30 years of its life in active work, which roughly corresponds to half of the cycle. Others suggest that these waves arise from important innovations that launch technological revolutions (the railway) or investments that bring major improvements in a sector (education), which take roughly a Kondratiev cycle to trickle down to the economy. There are those who think that the next Kondratiev wave will build on the revolution in nanotechnology. Previous cycles have all had a key innovation that opened a new chapter in history. The first cycle (1790-1842) the steam engine, the second one (1843-1897) the railway, the third one (1898-1949) electricity and the car, the fourth one (1950-2000) the airplane and nuclear energy.
The longest cycle is named after the great French economic historian Fernand Braudel. The Braudel wave or secular cycle encompasses the changes of the deepest structures, which are only discernible over long periods of 100 to 200 years. As the pace of change in the world around us accelerates, the cycle’s span is shortened from 200 years to around a century. This fourth wave follows the evolution of comprehensive systems such as the interrelation between agriculture and industry or services and the industry.
Believers in the wave theory claim that these four superimposed heaving waves determine the rhythm of the economy and of history. When the crests or troughs of two waves coincide it has disastrous consequences for humanity. In the decades following the Napoleonic War, in a period of extreme uncertainty, a Braudel and a Kondratiev wave peaked synchronously. The stock market crash and crisis of 1873 was set off by an overlap of a Kondratiev and a Juglar cycle. The Great Depression of 1929 occurred at the low-point of a Kondratiev wave. Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kondratiev timed the publication of his book to perfection. The Major Economic Cycles came out in 1926, when the West’s economic growth looked unbreakable. Three years later people were rushing to the library for a copy of the Soviet economist’s book. The oil crisis of the 1970s was a tumult of waves. A Juglar, Kondratiev and Braudel apex at the same time. Some economists consider the whole theory nothing more than pseudoscience. On the other extreme those who could not give their name to a cycle search for and claim to have found mathematical (read: mystical) correlations between the waves, such as the formula 1 Kondratiev = 3 Kuznets = 6 Juglar = 12 Kitchin. As crises demonstrate, people will take anything to the extreme, be it the economy, science, economics or quantum physics. There is one discipline where exuberance is almost a prerequisite: futurology, whose key drive is to predict the future, which is in fact an important incentive to examine the past. The good Reverend Thomas Malthus is widely considered the first pioneer of futurology. He predicted over 200 years ago that food production would not be able to keep up with population growth, which would lead to famines worldwide. His theory did have one fault, though: he could not possibly foresee the technological developments that gave us modern farm machinery, fertilizers and GMO crops. Although there are many people starving in the world today, the global trend is just the opposite: despite the exponential population growth there is an abundance (if not oversupply) of food on Earth. Starvation in the third (developing) world is the result of political and financial anomalies and war rather than a problem of production capacity.
Jared Diamond, an evolutionary biologist, professor of geography at UCLA and critically acclaimed author of numerous popular science books, believes that there is no need for computerized risk analysis, research of trends and complex climate models to know what the future holds for mankind. Various groups of the human race, civilizations, have always outgrown their natural environment, which led to their decline or extinction. One of his favorite examples is that of the indigenous people of Easter Island. When Polynesians populated the island about 1,500 years ago, it was covered by lush vegetation. When discovered by a Dutch explorer in 1722, the island was barren with nothing but hundreds of monumental statues and a few locals wandering around. The islanders were so primitive that it was hard to believe that their forefathers had had the technological prowess to erect the huge moai. The natives cleared the forests to replace them with arable crops and to use the timber to erect the statues and to build canoes. After centuries of irresponsible logging, the islanders ran out of trees to cut down while the population exploded. Deforestation led to soil erosion, which in turn reduced crop yields and, with the forests gone, they had no canoes for fishing. The island became overpopulated, the food supply dwindled, the ecosystem collapsed, and the natives began killing each other, even resorting to cannibalism. For many this might be a worrying reminder no matter if they believe in waves or not.
Stimulating the economy sustainably after coronavirus
Authors: Yao Zhe and Wu Yixiu*
As the Covid-19 outbreak stabilises in China, the central government is starting to talk about protecting the economy as well as mitigating the virus.
On 3 February, the politburo standing committee called for China to “tackle the epidemic with one hand, and develop the economy with the other”, and continue working “to realise the year’s economic and social goals”. It reiterated this approach on 12 February.
This year marks the end of the 13th Five Year Plan, which includes the goal of creating a “moderately prosperous society”. Over the plan period (2016-20), national GDP and average incomes were meant to double compared to 2010. For that to happen, GDP would need to grow around 6% this year. There is no doubt the government will produce a stimulus package to help. But a programme focused on infrastructure such as railways and roads will hamper the country’s transition to a sustainable economy.
Heavy industry on the mend
Covid-19 led to the extension of the Chinese New Year holidays to almost a month, which affected all parts of the economy. For heavy industry, the biggest uncertainty was demand. Downstream manufacturers and property developers have been slow to get back to work and the economy in general is sluggish. With demand not yet recovered, output of the raw materials produced by heavy industry, such as steel and aluminium, has fallen, though not precipitously. Steel mill utilisation rates remain at a normal level of about 70%, with no major reduction in output. First quarter steel output is expected to be down about 3%.
The return to work has picked up since 10 February. Coal consumption at six major power plants has increased slowly but steadily, indicating industry is getting back on track. Work on key infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges resumed on 15 February, with considerable fanfare. Experts answering questions online for the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said that despite widespread stoppages in construction, services and labour-intensive manufacturing, the heavy industries that supply these sectors continued to operate through the Chinese New Year and beyond. It’s not economical, for example, to stop furnaces in a steel factory for a week or two, so these continued to burn while producing less steel.
The analyst Lauri Myllyvirta pointed out that China has excess heavy industrial capacity and the sector will be able to ramp up to meet any increased demand, with industrial output and power consumption soon recovering. Experts have said the epidemic will mean a significant but short-term drop in energy consumption by heavy industry in the first quarter of the year, until the epidemic is brought under control.
Signs of an infrastructure-focused stimulus
Covid-19 is a new challenge for a Chinese economy already facing a slowdown. The government’s usual response to economic pressure is to use public spending to promote investment, particularly in infrastructure, and there are signs this will again be the case.
Tens of trillions of yuan of investment is planned in major projects across China this year, according to figures in the Economic Information Daily. The latest figures indicate that among the batch of special-purpose bonds (SPBs) issued by local governments earlier in the year, about 67% are to the infrastructure sector. SPBs are designed to help local governments inject funds into specific projects, such as irrigation and toll roads, to help boost their economies. Since January, local governments have issued about 950 billion yuan (US$136 billion) of SPBs, accounting for about 73.6% of the front-loaded SPB quota for this year.
Transport and energy infrastructure – including gas pipelines, oil refineries and nuclear power plants – are well represented in the project lists that some provinces have published. For example, Jiangsu province plans to invest 220 billion yuan (US$30 billion) in infrastructure out of the 540 billion yuan that is going into 240 major projects. Of the 233 major projects listed by Shandong province, 25 are road or rail construction and 16 are building projects. Meanwhile, Yunnan province announced an infrastructure construction plan at a recent press conference on Covid-19, including 100 billion yuan for high-speed rail.
Economic analysts expect to see infrastructure investment in China climb by as much as 8% to 9% this year.
Lauri Myllyvirta has calculated that the extended holiday cut China’s carbon emissions in the first two weeks of the lunar new year by a quarter year-on-year. These climate savings may be offset by a government stimulus package favouring infrastructure projects. According to Zhang Shuwei, director of the Draworld Environment Research Center: “If the government eases monetary policy and boosts infrastructure construction, we may see a nationwide increase in the energy intensity of the economy. It’s likely that energy consumption will not be affected, or will even jump quite a bit.”
If an economic stimulus is unavoidable, it should at least be targeted and not run contrary to China’s efforts to improve the structure of the economy. The service sector, which has been rocked by Covid-19, accounts for 54% of China’s GDP and provides huge numbers of jobs. Support tailored to it will be crucial for rebuilding resilience and confidence, and is in line with China’s economic transition.
Chinese economists often debate how best to direct public finances in order to stimulate the economy. The coronavirus has brought something new to that discussion, by highlighting that public services like hospitals and schools suffer from a lack of resources and capacity to respond to emergencies.
Former mayor of Chongqing, Huang Qifan, wrote that government spending has long favoured transportation and construction, while overlooking public facilities and services. Huang believes spending on the latter would be a more effective way to boost GDP while also meeting public needs. He thinks government spending should incentivise consumption of public goods and services “to promote sustainable and high-quality economic growth.”
Heilongjiang and Jiangsu provinces are adding public health and other “catch-up” projects to their list of major projects, with funding support for those chosen. Nationally, the decision on whether to make improving the public health and emergency response systems a key target for government investment will be a test for policymakers.
Covid-19 is believed to have spread to humans via wild animal consumption. The public is now more aware of the importance to health of living in better harmony with the natural world. What is less recognised is that as well as bringing us disease, the overexploitation of nature also brings systemic risks that could cause disastrous “black swan” events. Four of the five major risks listed in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Risks Report are environmental: climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather and the water crisis. As these risks interact rather than stand alone, they could cause a chain reaction.
If we are to increase our resilience, we need to fully understand these risks and ensure the facilities and mechanisms to respond are in place to prevent incidents escalating catastrophically. Environmental risks, like public health risks, need major investment to guard against. There are two aspects to this investment: one is spending on restoring our damaged environment and minimising further damage; the second is investment in environmentally-friendly technologies and industries that can change our mode of economic growth – to increase the “compatibility” of our society and economy with the environment.
How will we restore the economy once the epidemic has passed? If we direct government spending to high-carbon infrastructure construction and heavy industry, as usual, we will place ourselves at huge climate risk. This kind of investment is clearly not sustainable.
According to Zhang Shuwei: “The key is what we see when we look back at the lessons of the epidemic. Will we focus solely on the joy of victory, or acquire an awe at how nature, society and ourselves rely on each other? Our answer will lead us down different paths.”
From our partner chinadialogue
*Wu Yixiu is team leader of chinadialogue’s Strategic Climate Communication Initiatives. Before joining the team she was campaign manager with Greenpeace East Asia responsible for international policies. She also worked as a reporter at the English Service of China Radio International. Yixiu holds a B.A. in History in Fudan University and a master’s degree in Journalism from University of Westminster, London.
Pandemic Recovery Shape: WWW
Like a World-Wide-War, the pandemic recovery appears WWW shaped amidst fog of misinformation. It’s a global war of sorts showcased on global stage; nation by nation, multi-layered battlefields, tackling healthcare, economy, upskilling, and social justice with complex or comical dialogues, shielded with expert narratives or proclamations of stupidity avoiding bullets of facts and sciences.
Casualty counts on battlefields rise with bodies littered across the world, sufferers gasping for the last oxygen and masked combat warriors on frontlines in out of control interactions but all yelling for truth. The highs and lows of competency levels publicly acrobated each day, hastily sensationalized by media, super-glazed by political punditry has created new lower standards of deployments. Equally, it has successfully fertilized the global mindshare to ask serious questions while novelty dances of national leaderships and political behavior picks up new rhythms to fix the old broken systems. The masses of the new world now want large scale change. American elections ready for battle.
There never ever was a call for all G7 or G100 meeting on Day One of the pandemic, the greatest opportunities to step up on global platform missed. The narcissism prevented such humanistic dialogue; exceptionalism is only worthy when measured to serve humanity, otherwise just self-destructionist.
This unforgiving mistake for not having frank, globally open, scientifically intelligent dialogue, streamed live 24×7 global-access on digital-stage to acquaint global masses is a historic failure. Nation by nation, the politics and science mixture shakedown did not create some fine Angostura cocktails rather it turned into a Molotov. The restless citizenry of the world is hoping for truthful solutions. The irony of this pandemic will not be forgotten but immortalized in heavily casted monumental war memorial remembering the crisis, the fighters and the lost ones; the wise and not so wise of the battle.
Nevertheless, few leadership teams are handling superbly while majority in visible chaos.
The only reward left amongst the casualty of war, if the global populace of billions can claim of at least acquiring some new wisdom while quarantined, earned as a weapon against tyranny, social justice and fairness to enable some balance on the economical charades and some truth to achieve some equality. In this case, cost of human sufferings may become bearable, otherwise, just a cruel reality wrapped in fakery.
The world must open global all-nation dialogue to tackle complex borderless mankind suffering issues; deep silence only becoming living proofs of incompetency and lack of precise knowledge to articulate on such issues.
The world must set new leadership standards on global crisis management as new challenges;
The omnipresence of the pandemic; whensocial front strikes like a hidden kiss of death; the response demands strict quarantines, the impact resulting in bankrupt economies. The damaged economies stretched, stronger ones counting days, any national shut down over 30 day is like creating a year of depression for that nation. A year-long closing, opening, closing and reopening is unimaginable wave to break down civil and economic structure. It’s a world-wide-war but not yet open for a “global stage daily briefing by global experts” the mankind suffers.
The omnipotence of the fear; when risk of exposure lingers for months and years, creating recovery shaped like WWW demands new thinking and open debates. The economic policies, business protocols, and global trade all in YOYO Economy will go up and down with every major shift and shock reactions unbalancing the progress. The fear if filled with new high quality open debates and discussions designed as constructive upskilling platforms shifts into hope and options and eliminating seek and destroy mentality.
The omnicompetent entrepreneurialism; historically, across the world, entrepreneurs created the origin of economic landscapes; they will do it again, as natural risk takers on earth shattering, mind-bending and life-altering creations for the advancements of mankind. A quick study of the last 1000 entrepreneurs on global stage will provide the proof and blueprints. How do you uplift national citizenry and upskilling hidden talents, the dead silence from national gatekeepers will eventually turn into higher notes. The national trade groups like Chambers, Associations and government departments with vested interest in local economic development must rise all together with digital platform mobilization.
The post pandemic world will positively overflow with billion new entrepreneurs on march from Asia and all the other global entrepreneurialism suddenly bounce on advanced digital platforms, in an office-less, work-less, retail-less, remote-working, remote-learning, remote-shopping and remote living world; creating brand new solutions.
The omnidirectional thinking; the old-business-world is dying for mostly failing to create local grassroots prosperity; they may finally reemerge with new bloodstreams based on global interconnectivity of global trade and consumption with maximum technology and free platforms. The damage caused over decades already visible for ignoring entrepreneurialism as national hidden assets in local SME and ignoring women entrepreneurs as top quality untapped resource, now the day of lip service are almost over. The workers of the world, the thinkers and alpha dreamers, will go remote and carve out global access and digital paths to thousands of cities for their goods and services and create a far more fluid and rewarding culture of trade and commerce. Futurism is workless but NOT trade-less, study deeply
The critical need for new agents of change; covidism mastery is a new art and science, living the new normal as abnormal new learning, the entrepreneurial business world desperately needs ‘agents of change’ the masters of covidism, the new critical thinkers, the dreamers, complex problem solvers and fighter of better quality work models and economical survival strategies. Something mostly unavailable in universities degrees and critically lacking in the corner-offices of the world, but hidden as unknown talent in the working citizenry of any nation. National mobilization to harness such powers of young and old men and women entrepreneurs, nation by nation will rebuild and foster progress.
Study very deeply; plan next 1000 days very meticulously, as you too may have to answer about your own future, very soon
Rest is easy
China’s Financial Opening-Up Under the Covid-19 Pandemic
Authors: Chan Kung and Wei Hongxu*
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the world, globalization, trade and production activities are hit hard. Despite the pandemic’s presence, China continues to promote its financial opening-up. For starters, China is removing the restrictions on foreign financial institutions’ access to the Chinese market at a pre-pandemic pace, as well as opening-up various financial industries such as securities firms, asset management, and insurance. Then, China has relaxed the restrictions imposed on international capital entering the Chinese market. However, the turmoil in the international financial market caused by the pandemic is continuously affecting China’s financial system too. Due to the profound changes in the global economy and financial system caused by the pandemic, the act of reopening the financial world continues be questioned. Issues like the patterns that may crop up in the market’s opening-up in the future and the progress of the internationalization of RMB are some questions worth pondering about.
Comparing the situation to the time before the pandemic took place, the current international financial system and the global economic landscape have undergone great changes. The pandemic has caused global trading system to come to a standstill, disrupting personnel exchanges and logistics, thereby worsening the trend of counter-globalization. In particular, the pandemic has hugely impacted the global industrial and supply chains. Following the pandemic, the reconstruction of industrial and supply chains will show a more regional trend. Officials from international organizations said that the pre-crisis international trade frictions have led to a slowdown in globalization and will worsen further after the crisis. Barry Eichengreen, a professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, believes that globalization has begun slowing down. This is not only indicated through the slowdown of trades, but the increasing trade barriers and capital outflows from capital control countries too. Concurrently, global capital markets have been hit hard, and major central banks headed by the Federal Reserve have adopted a never-before-seen loose monetary policy, further reducing interest rate levels to maintain the bubble of financial assets. This caused the global financial system to experience turbulence and differentiation. In spite of that, the dollar ’s position in the international financial system has actually strengthened, and emerging markets have been seriously affected, bearing the pressure of capital outflows and exchange rate depreciation.
Due to the pandemic and the tremendous changes happening within the international economy and finance, China’s economy has also suffered. Particularly, its consumption, investment, and foreign trade all experienced substantial declines in the first quarter. Likewise, the nature of conflict between China and the United States has turned into a sociopolitical one, due to the countries’ differences in managing COVID-19. In fact, China is expected to face a harder time on the international level in the future. The important question now is, will China’s financial opening-up lead to further domestic financial risks and market turmoil? Follow up question, will it worsen China’s economy and social stability? This is perhaps China’s biggest financial concern as far as opening up is concerned. To ANBOUND’s researchers, the changes in the international politics and economic landscape signifies things are shifting away from globalization and into regionalization and geopolitics. Going by ANBOUND’s earlier discussions on the “Crisis Triangle”, in the future, be it economic or financial fields, we anticipate competition for market space to further intensify. Therefore, China’s reopened financial system needs to focus on improving the financial market system, either by opening the financial market and capital opening or internationalizing RMB.
China’s financial market has been relatively closed off in the past. Not only are its market rules and legal systems inadequate, its financial institutions generally lack competitiveness as well. It’s not surprising to see investors lack professionalism, which results in a “blockage” within the currency transmission mechanism, on top of poor efficiency in financial resource allocation. With that in mind, introducing specialized and highly competitive international institutions will have a “catfish effect” that enables local financial institutions’ to compete better, achieve market optimization options, and improve the overall financial system. Furthermore, it enables foreign financial institutions to better serve Chinese enterprises and improves the efficiency in allocating financial resource too.
Up to this point, many institutions and researchers continue to confuse China’s financial opening-up with RMB internationalization. In fact, looking at China’s history of financial reform and past opening-up(s), its financial opening has been an ongoing journey, yet it was never once in sync with the level of RMB internationalization. The RMB internalization is more related to the changes in the exchange rate. When the RMB exchange rate saw a depreciation beginning 2015, it joined the SDR currency basket too. China and many other countries have signed currency swap agreements, though the offshore RMB is still shrinking. The situation has not changed with the opening-up of China’s bond and A-share market represented by the expansion of the Shanghai-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect. While foreign investment in China’s financial market is still increasing, the overseas use of the RMB as a trading and investment tool has not changed significantly. Not long ago, Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, mentioned the internationalization of the RMB is dependent on the market. The central bank’s focus is to provide infrastructure, reduce restrictions on the use of RMB, while the market decides which currency to use. Therefore, the internationalization of the RMB is closely related to China’s geo-influence in the international economy and trade scene.
Given the current turmoil in the international financial market, adhering to the opening-up of the financial market through system construction and upgrading should be China’s focus in its financial opening-up, meaning the country should continuously deepen the capacity and improve its financial market‘s attractiveness. Done well, it will attract the entry of international financial institutions, even with restricted capital flows; and international capital will too value the return on Chinese assets and risk diversification. That said, China needs to be cautious in opening-up the capital account to avoid the impact of U.S. dollar capital. For a long time, the U.S. dollar has and will continue to occupy the top position in the international financial system. China’s capital liberalization and RMB internationalization need to be promoted gradually in the form of regional trade settlement and bilateral financial cooperation. This means that China should adopt the means of “geo-development”, as the outcome will depend on China’s political and economic geo-influence.
Final analysis conclusion:
In the presence of the Covid-19 pandemic, China should give a little more forethought pertaining its financial opening-up. On one hand, it should emphasize and accelerate the construction of the financial system to promote the opening of its domestic financial markets. On the other, a more cautious geo-approach is required to implement capital account opening and RMB internationalization.
*Wei Hongxu, graduated from the School of Mathematics of Peking University with a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Birmingham, UK in 2010 and is a researcher at Anbound Consulting, an independent think tank with headquarters in Beijing. Established in 1993, Anbound
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