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Dethroning the ‘Dollar Dictatorship’

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Authors: Dr. Matthew Crosston , Andy Deahn

Russian President Vladimir Putin has loudly projected that his nation and the other Caspian nations will leave the dollar behind. Mr. Putin has exclaimed that the United States runs a “Dollar dictatorship” when it comes to global market oil prices and affirms that his nation’s currency will not become a victim subjected to its rule.

In order to combat this “dictatorship” attempts have been made to enhance relations with China in order to integrate both the ruble and the yuan into the global market more dominantly. His belief is that in doing so he will weaken the dollar while strengthening both national currencies. However, Mr. Putin is potentially committing a mistake, as he is generally associating a strong currency with national strength and views the decline in the ruble’s value as an offense against Russia’s prowess. These are clearly political statements used to project an aura of strength that disregard the economic realities facing the Kremlin. Rather than take meaningful counter-actions so as to create positive momentum and strong economic stimuli, Putin sometimes seems more focused on capitalizing on his celebrity status to ‘tweak the American eagle’ as it were. Putin’s “projection” as stated above can thus be observed as an attempt to manufacture a sense of Russian exceptionalism that will counter the ‘insult’ that he considers as a constant American exceptionalism on the global stage. However, these geopolitical playground battles do not outweigh the realities of the world economy and how Russia needs to create serious policies to deal with sanctions and weak oil prices.

While China is Russia’s largest trading partner and has become the world’s largest consumer of fossil fuels — a vital aspect to Russian economic health — the Chinese financial crisis that occurred in August 2015 has weakened the Yuan, consequently placing increased pressure on the Russian economy as well. The Chinese economic meltdown and the resultant devaluation of the Yuan held global implications. From Wall Street to Venezuela to Saudi Arabia, economic downturns were observed. On Wall Street the drop in the stock market created panic among brokers/investors and in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela a drop in oil prices impacted their economies rather severely, given both have bet some of their financial futures on China’s continual thirst for commodity imports. Russia, however, which exports approximately 14 percent of its annual oil production to China, has a lot more to lose from the Chinese economic decline. This is because oil and natural gas are at the heart of the Russian economy. These commodities account for over 75 percent of export revenues and over 50 percent of government budgetary resources. The Russian ruble, which is directly linked to global oil prices, has been steadily decreasing in value throughout the last 12 months. This direct link is identified through the correlating data of the market price for oil and the value of the ruble to the U.S. dollar. For example, the market price for oil dropped from $104 USD per barrel to around $50 USD per barrel from September 2014 to September 2015. At the same time the value of the ruble, which in the beginning of September 2014 was 36 RUB to 1 USD, had slipped by September 2015 to 68 RUB to 1 USD—a steep devaluation rate not seen since the 1997 global financial recession.

In addition to having the value of its currency decline, for every dollar that global oil prices drop Russia loses an estimated $2 billion a year in revenues. When combined with other harmful realities like Western sanctions, Russia’s relative dependence upon a singular commodity market, and lavish spending rather than modernizing its energy sector during high oil prices, it is clear that Russia pontificating about a ‘dollar dictatorship’ should not be its focus. Indeed, there is something of a flawed logic in the premise: why does President Putin believe he can leave the dollar behind by tying the punished ruble with the declining Chinese yuan? In the near-term at least this strategy is destined to fail.

One regional influence Russia is also somewhat disregarding (or making too many positive assumptions) in this endeavor and that will potentially become of greater geopolitical importance is the Islamic Republic of Iran, now that the new nuclear accord has been struck and many sanctions lifted. By hedging their bets too heavily on China and disregarding up-to-the-minute regional economic shifts, Russia is possibly inflicting its own monetary wounds while uselessly blame-shifting on America for its economic woes. The lifting of Iranian sanctions would mean that Russia could face a newly invigorated, oil-producing, heavyweight regional competitor, one that could reshape the power balance in the Caspian Sea Region and may not necessarily be willing to be as close an ally to Russia as Russia assumes it will be.

A more economically and politically independent Iran, and its ability to influence regional power shifts, would allow for the other Caspian states to modernize and diversify their economies. This would mean that Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan may finally be able to break free of the Russian influence that has basically engulfed them since the Soviet era by building the Trans-Caspian pipeline. Likewise Kazakhstan, a nation whose economy is also built upon the same commodity market as Russia, may finally be able to lessen the havoc that the Russian currency decline is playing within its own borders. Right now there are few analysts seriously considering these potentialities, both here in the West and within Russia. This is an error. Russia clearly thinks the new nuclear accord will lead only to improved ties and deeper economic prosperity for both itself and Iran. But there is ample historical evidence to consider that an emboldened and newly stabilized Iran simply might not need Russia as much as Russia needs it. This future reality could signal a dramatic change in the Russian-Iranian relationship, and not to Russia’s favor. The longer Moscow assumes this is a geostrategic impossibility and that its only concern is battling the ‘dollar dictatorship,’ then the Kremlin only creates more danger for itself.

We already know that a devalued yuan is further assisting oil prices to drop on a global scale, placing great strain on the Russian economy as well as on some bordering Caspian states. Historically, when the Kremlin feels threatened, it shifts blame to other scapegoats rather than seriously tackling its problems. The current sharp slowdown of Chinese economic growth has already impacted multiple Russian economic sectors, including energy, metallurgy, timber, and agriculture. The future alliance with Iran is not an automatic guarantee. Western sanctions still grind along. The Caspian littorals may see opportunities to loosen Russia’s economic grip over their local economic standings. Clearly, plenty of ‘real’ problems exist. So it would behoove Russia to stop spending time on economic fantasies of ‘dethroning the dollar dictatorship.’ That seems to be the least of its real problems.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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Economy

Without Reform on Social Protection, Kosovo’s Poorest and Most Vulnerable Will Be Left Behind

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There is growing alarm in Kosovo over rising prices for food, electricity, fuel, and firewood. This is not unwarranted. As elsewhere around the world, inflation is straining Kosovans’ budgets as incomes fail to keep pace. The situation is particularly dire for those already living in poverty or close to the poverty line since they spend a greater proportion of their income on food, energy bills, and home heating. Even small price increases threaten these households’ ability to meet basic needs.

That is where social protection programs like pensions, social assistance, and labor market programs play an important role in safeguarding the poorest and most vulnerable. Investing in well-functioning social protection systems is not just a moral imperative, it is smart economics. These programs are an investment in Kosovo’s future—essential to promoting healthier and better educated children and assisting young people in finding jobs. And when the poor are supported and given opportunities to improve their livelihoods, they are less likely to leave the country in search of a better life—helping keep valuable human capital and skills in Kosovo.

Is Kosovo’s social protection system responding well to the numerous crises—the war in Ukraine, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and rising food and energy prices—facing the country? I would argue that much still needs to be done to better protect poor households. While Kosovo allocates a significant portion of its budget to social protection programs, their efficiency and redistributive impacts need improvement. To truly unlock these systems’ potential to support individuals, families, and communities in the face of economic shocks, they must be overhauled and redesigned.

The shortcomings in Kosovo’s social protection system are most apparent with the Social Assistance Scheme (SAS), which faced an 8.4% funding decrease between 2009 and 2019 after adjusting for inflation. The number of households receiving SAS benefits also dropped over roughly the same period, from more than 40,000 in 2005 to roughly 25,600 in 2020. This is partly driven by the fact that very poor households are often not SAS-eligible: of the poorest 20% of Kosovo’s population, only about one in four people receive SAS benefits. This is because the eligibility criteria are stringent and inflexible. Households must either have all adults defined as ‘dependent,’ meaning they are not required to work, or one adult must be registered as unemployed and caring for a child younger than five or an orphan under age 15. These same households must also have a low income, few assets, and poor living conditions. Such restrictive conditions likely encourage individuals to seek informal employment and exclude many working poor households and those with multiple children all over the age of five, which face higher expenses and needs.

As currently designed and despite the Government’s recent efforts to increase monthly stipends paid to beneficiaries, the SAS does not provide an adequate safety net for many poor families in Kosovo. This was especially apparent during the pandemic when SAS was unable to expand to reach households that had fallen into poverty or out of the labor market because of closures—necessitating the Government to rapidly launch a new program (Measure 15) to fill this gap.

Our analysis suggests that revising the SAS design by selecting beneficiary households on their poverty status only—considering both formal and informal income—would significantly increase its equity. This would enable the SAS to better mirror the country’s poverty profile and create a legal foundation to expand the scheme’s coverage when poverty dynamics in the country change and more budget resources are made available to finance poverty-targeted programs. Recent experience has also demonstrated the need to invest in the scheme’s delivery systems, including an integrated data management system to understand who is receiving which benefits. Payment systems must also be modernized to increase transparency and accountability over use of taxpayer funds. These reforms are a critical first step towards ensuring that the country’s poorest are protected today and into the future.

We stand ready to support the implementation of such efforts, starting with the strengthening of the current system through the World Bank-supported SAS Reform project, currently awaiting ratification in Parliament. This project will provide funding for investments in the SAS delivery systems and increase the value of SAS benefits to mitigate the economic impacts of the unfolding crises facing Kosovo.

The time to act is now. The costs of not doing so will be severe and long-lasting for the country’s future and will leave Kosovo’s poorest and most vulnerable behind.

Originally published in Albanian in Gazeta Express, via World Bank

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Comparison of the US and Chinese economy

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No doubt that the US is the largest economy, but, it is facing severe challenges and may not sustain this status forever. It is a natural cycle, nations work hard and rose to the peak and rule the other nations, sustain status quo for various duration, and then by one or another reason starts declining and pave ways for other nation to climb peak and become number one. It is an historic fact, which cannot be denied. One cannot win against the nature.

The US has been ruling the world after the World War II, and enjoyed supremacy, especially, after the disintegration of former USSR in 1991, the US enjoyed hegemony as a single superpower in the unipolar world for few decades.

However, the geopolitics has been changed, the US may not have realized, or not willing to accept it. But, the ground realities are evident and the US economy is falling sharply and losing its status of unique superpower and supremacy.

Below is the record of bankruptcy in US:-

1. Victoria’s Secret declared bankruptcy.

2. Zara closed 1,200 stores.

3. La Chapelle withdrew 4391 stores.

4. Chanel is discontinued.

5. Hermes is discontinued.

6. Patek Philippe discontinued production.

7. Rolex discontinued production.

8. The world’s luxury industry has crumbled.

9. Nike has a total of $23 billion US dollars preparing for the second stage of layoffs.

10. Gold’s gym filed for bankruptcy

11. The founder of Airbnb said that because of pandemic, 12 years of efforts were destroyed in 6 weeks.

12. Even Starbucks also announced to permanently close their 400 stores.

13. WeWork isn’t in a great spot either

14. Nissan Motor Co. may close down in USA

15. Biggest Car Rental Company (Hertz) filed for bankruptcy – they also own Thrifty and Dollar

16. The biggest Trucking company (Comcar) filed for bankruptcy – they have 4000 trucks

17. Oldest retail company (JC Penny) filed for bankruptcy – to be acquired by Amazon for pennies

18. The biggest investor in the world (Warren Buffet) lost $50B in the last 2 months

19. The biggest investment company in the world (BlackRock) is signaling disaster in the world economy – they manage over $7 Trillion

20. Biggest mall in America (Mall of America) stopped paying mortgage payments

21. Most reputable airline in the world (Emirates) laying off 30% of its employees

22. US Treasury printing trillions to try to keep the economy on life support

23. Estimated no. of retail stores closing in 2020 – 12,000 to 15,000. The following are big retailers that have announced closing: – J. Crew,  – Gap,  – Victoria’s Secret,  – Bath & Body Works,  – Forever 21, – Sears,  – Walgreens,  – GameStop,  – Pier 1 Imports,  – Nordstrom,  – Papyrus, – Chico’s,  – Destination Maternity,  – Modell’s,  – A.C. Moore, – Macy’s,  – Bose,  – Art Van Furniture,  – Olympia Sports,  – K Mart, – Specialty Cafe & Bakery, and many more.

Unemployment claims reached an all-time high of 38+ million – unemployment is over 25% (out of 160 million of workforce, close to 40 million are jobless). With no income, consumer demand is falling drastically and the economy will go into a free fall.

Of course COVID-19 has adversely impacted on the global economy including the US, but, more importantly. The US military operations, misadventures, overseas military bases, unnecessary confrontations, and war craze has costed heavily and harmed its economy severely. Only the miracles can save the US, otherwise its downfall is under process and declining accelerated.

On the other hand, China is making positive developments, despite of COVID-19, and slightly deterioration, yet the economic indicators are encouraging. China’s foreign exchange reserves totaled 3.0549 trillion U.S. dollars at the end of August, down 49.2 billion U.S. dollars from July, data from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange showed Wednesday.

“Cross-border capital flows were rational and orderly, and supply and demand in the domestic foreign exchange market remained generally balanced,” said Wang Chunying, deputy director and spokesperson of the administration.

Wang attributed the decrease in foreign exchange reserves to factors including exchange rate conversion and asset price changes. On the global financial market, the U.S. dollar index rises and the price of global financial assets declines under the influence of monetary policy expectations and the macroeconomic data of major countries.

Deeming the external situation complex and grim at present, Wang said the global financial market registers strong fluctuations amid increasing pressure on the global economy.

China has kept its economy operating in an appropriate range by effectively coordinating epidemic prevention and control with economic and social development, while implementing a raft of policies on stabilizing the economy. This helps keep its forex reserves generally stable, Wang added. Its domestic market is huge and can compensate any loss from international market. The pace of development within China is huge, which keep the economy moving on. More companies are appearing the top 500 fortunes, against the US companies are decreasing gradually.

China is emerging as a role model for many developing nations and is being followed by few countries. Chinese model is based on win-win cooperation, no aggression, no war, no occupation, no colonialization, no interference into other’s domestic affairs. It is a perfect peaceful development model and a precedence for the civilized world.

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The Black Sea Grain Initiative: What it is, and why it’s important for the world

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Workmen at Dar Es Salaam harbour loading bags of wheat destined for Central Africa (file) © FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, exports of grain from Ukraine, as well as food and fertilizers from Russia, have been significantly hit. The disruption in supplies pushed soaring prices even higher and contributed to a global food crisis. The Black Sea Grain Initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye, was set up to reintroduce vital food and fertilizer exports from Ukraine to the rest of the world. Here are some key points to understand.

1) A deal to get vital supplies moving again

Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, normally supplies around 45 million tonnes of grain to the global market every year but, following Russia’s invasion of the country, in late February 2022, mountains of grains built up in silos, with ships unable to secure safe passage to and from Ukrainian ports, and land routes unable to compensate.

This contributed to a jump in the price of staple foods around the world. Combined with increases in the cost of energy, developing countries were pushed to the brink of debt default and increasing numbers of people found themselves on the brink of famine.

On 22 July, the UN, the Russian Federation, Türkiye and Ukraine agreed the Black Sea Grain Initiative, at a signing ceremony in the Turkish capital, Istanbul.

The deal allowed exports from Ukraine of grain, other foodstuffs, and fertilizer, including ammonia, to resume through a safe maritime humanitarian corridor from three key Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, to the rest of the world.

To implement the deal, a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was established in Istanbul, comprising senior representatives from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine, and the United Nations.

According to procedures issued by the JCC, vessels wishing to participate in the Initiative will undergo inspection off Istanbul to ensure they are empty of cargo, then sail through the maritime humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian ports to load. The corridor is established by the JCC and monitored 24/7 to ensure the safe passage of vessels. Vessels on the return journey will also be inspected at the inspection area off Istanbul.

2) Millions of tonnes are leaving Ukraine

Shipments monitored by the Initiative began leaving from 1st August. By the end of the month, over 100 ships, laden with more than one million tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs, had left Ukraine. By mid-September the JCC reported that some three million tonnes had left Ukraine, signalling positive progress. It is hoped that, eventually, up to five million tonnes will be exported monthly.

According to UN figures, 51 per cent of the cargo so far (as of mid-September) has been corn, 25 per cent wheat, 11 per cent sunflower products, six per cent rapeseed, five per cent barley, one per cent soya beans, and one per cent other foodstuffs.

3) Around one third of shipments are going directly to lower income countries

A 25 per cent of the cargo has gone to low and lower-middle income countries. Egypt (8 per cent), India and Iran (4 per cent each), Bangladesh, Kenya and Sudan (2 per cent each), Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti (1 per cent each), and Tunisia (less than one per cent)

This includes UN-chartered vessels delivering humanitarian food assistance – World Food Programme (WFP) purchased wheat – to the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Two UN-chartered ships have already left Ukraine, while another two are expected soon. WFP had so far purchased 120,000 metric tonnes of wheat to support humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.

The first WFP-chartered vessel docked in Djibouti on 30 August to support the drought response in the Horn of Africa. A second UN-chartered vessel, loaded with 37,500 metric tons of wheat, sailed on 30 August and docked in Türkiye on 3 September, where the wheat will be milled to flour.

This flour will then be loaded onto a different ship that will head to Yemen to support the World Food Programme’s humanitarian response there. The third and fourth WFP-chartered vessels will also supply wheat to relief operations.

Some 25 per cent of grain has gone to upper-middle income countries – including Türkiye, China and Bulgaria; and 50 per cent to high-income countries like Spain, Netherlands, Italy, Republic of Korea, Romania, Germany, France, Greece, Ireland, and Israel.

The UN points out that all of the grain coming out of the Ukrainian ports thanks to the Initiative benefits people in need, as it helps to calm markets, and limit food price inflation.

All ship movements can be found on the Black Sea Grain Initiative website, which also contains useful facts and figures.

4) Food prices are coming down

There are strong signs that the Initiative is succeeding in one of its key aims, getting food prices down.

At a press briefing in mid-September, Rebeca Grynspan, the Secretary-General of the UN trade agency, known as UNCTAD, and Amir Abdulla, the UN Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative welcomed the fact prices have come down five months in a row: the Food Price Index has decreased nearly 14 per cent from its peak in March of this year.

Mr. Abdulla explained that falling prices meant that those who had been hoarding grain, in the hope of selling at a greater profit, were now selling, which meant that there is now more food supply in the markets, leading to further price drops. Ms. Grynspan, who is also coordinator of the UN global Task Team set up to help support countries deal with the triple economic shocks worsened by the effects of the war in Ukraine, pointed out that this is making a huge difference in a global cost of living crisis.  

Globally, a record 345 million people in more than 80 countries are currently facing acute food insecurity, while up to 50 million people in 45 countries are at risk of being pushed into famine without humanitarian support.

In August, WFP Executive Director David Beasley declared getting the Black Sea Ports open to be “the single most important thing we can do right now to help the world’s hungry”. He warned that, whilst this would not, on its own, stop world hunger, bringing Ukrainian grain back on global markets would improve the chance of preventing the global food crisis from spiralling even further

5) Ongoing collaboration is necessary for continued success

The UN is acutely aware that keeping shipments sailing smoothly out of Ukrainian ports will require the continued collaboration of Ukraine and Russia. Mr. Abdulla has praised the “collaborative spirit” between the parties to the Initiative. He also noted the special role that Türkiye and the UN are playing in keeping the process moving.

However, with no clear end in sight to the war, the future is uncertain.

The current Initiative may extend beyond its initial 120 days after the signing date of 22 July, if parties so choose. Thoughts at the JCC team in Istanbul are already turning to the extension of the deal. Mr. Abdulla remains positive, expressing his hope that “with the UN’s mediation efforts, it won’t really be a matter for discussion”.

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