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Economy

Bitcoin as a National Currency

Luis Durani

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In recent months, Bitcoins have been all the rage especially as the crypto-currency has begun to climb in value. The spike has once again shone a light on the digital currency as a potential alternative to fiat currencies, which currently is witnessing all kinds of volatility thanks to Brexit, central banks’ thirst for printing, and massive deficit spending. While many investors see a positive future for the alternative currency, the true test of Bitcoin will be if a nation adopts the currency. The adoption of Bitcoin as a national currency will bring with it a plethora of financial securities but at the cost of eliminating the ability of central banks to print currency endlessly.

What is it?

Bitcoin was born out of a desire for online payments to be conducted among peer to peer systems with the elimination of a third party or middleman such as Paypal. Since its inception, Bitcoin has evolved into a myriad of entities ranging from being an investment vehicle, digital currency, community, and more importantly, the potential to be an alternative monetary system. It’s in this last point where Bitcoin’s greatest potential lies, if the trend continues; it could forever change how people and government conduct business.

Is it Money?

Despite making headlines, Bitcoin is still unknown to many. A study conducted by the Coin Center has found that 2/3 of Americans have no knowledge about the digital currency and of those that did know, 80% never have used it. This is one of the major impediments for Bitcoin in its quest to become an established currency. When Bitcoins are mentioned, the primary concern for people is whether or not it is money? Many people think of it more as a credit than actual currency such as Dollars, the Euro, Rubles, etc. In order to better understand if Bitcoins are money, one must understand how money is defined. Money is primarily defined by the following characteristics:

Durability – Be able to withstand wear and tear. Thanks to technology, Bitcoin as a digital unit of currency can, in theory, last into perpetuity.

Divisible – Ability to divide into small units allowing consumers to purchase products at any price. Bitcoin is more divisible than any existing currency, allowing users to go into thousandths place for a transaction, if need be.

Scarce – Must be limited and not so easily obtained. Unlike fiat currency, which is not capped and can be printed endlessly (as it is now around the world), Bitcoin production is capped at 21 million, at which point no more will be produced. This fact alone makes Bitcoin more stable than gold which is not firmly capped and supplies remain somewhat unbounded depending on mining activity.

Portable – Is it easy to carry? Due to its digital nature, Bitcoins can be carried on phones, tablets or computers anywhere and anytime.

Acceptability – Must be widely accepted as a medium of exchange. This is currently one of the uphill battles for Bitcoin. It is gaining momentum globally but as a relatively new currency, it needs to continue to increase its recognition. Nevertheless, relative to many minor currencies of weaker economic nations, Bitcoins appear to be accepted more so.

Stability– The value of the currency must remain relatively constant over long periods of time. As a new currency with few investors, Bitcoins liquidity is more volatile due to the effect of every transaction on the digital currency’s price, but with time this issue will subside as more investors and users partake into the currency decreasing its precariousness. In addition, the upper cap of Bitcoin production will serve as an anchor for price stability due to the fact that no more can be created. In theory, this parameter would invalid many national currency, if not all. The US Dollar, perhaps one of the most trusted and strongest currencies, has lost almost 100% of its value in the last several decades.

Thus, by the six generally accepted measures defining a currency as money, Bitcoins appears to fit the mold.

Lessons Learned

The 2008 financial crash as well as the economic uncertainty that has followed in the past decade has caused many to begin questioning the financial systems and philosophies that govern them around the world. As a result, shifts to populist leadership have begun to take root in many countries as well as the call for overhauling their respective economic systems. The confidence crisis will not be solved by any one leader or system but rather how money is handled in these respective countries. Under the current global monetary system, established in Bretton Woods and its subsequent modifications, all the nations in the world have fiat currencies. Fiat currencies are monies that are backed by the promise of the government that issues it and nothing else. This greatly diverges from what use to be practiced where currency was anchored to some tangible commodity that had an intrinsic value such as gold and/or silver. The root cause, albeit perhaps a simplified explanation herein, of many economic crises is due to use of fiat currency. Fiat currencies are not secured to anything, thus allowing central banks to scheme for ways to “alter” its value. Their tools of choice are printing more and using the additional money created out of thin air to “eliminate” any debt and deficit spending but such free reign to produce money comes at a dire consequence; devaluation or inflation. Inflation is an indirect tax on a nation’s population. Unrestricted spending leads to massive currency printing, which eventually is paid for by the citizens through inflation that can go unchecked sometimes as history has demonstrated in Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe, and now Venezuela, to cite a few extreme cases.

Enter Bitcoin. The implementation of Bitcoin as a national currency will yield immense benefits for a nation over time. While many countries dread ceding financial authority of their currency, the benefits of Bitcoin implementation as national currency will outweigh the costs for all countries but especially third world nations with smaller economies. Most economies around the world ultimately operate based on the consumer’s confidence, which has been eroding ever since the 2008 financial downturn. Bitcoin remedies the issue of public trust in the economic system. With smaller nations, the adoption of Bitcoin will allow them to restore not only their public’s confidence but attract foreign investments because there is a source of stability in the country; business loves stability. No longer can a nation’s currency be devalued by social welfare, war, debt, or redistribution of wealth especially to help ensure political ambitions. But pursuing such a policy does not come without costs. A national adoption of Bitcoin renders a nation impotent when it comes to the ability to control reserves, printing additional currency, or any other type of monetary policy.

Such surrender of financial ability forces a paradigm shift for governments in how they operate. The ultimate benefit is for a nation’s citizen, government can no longer squander hard earned tax money on fruitless projects, redistribution to other segments of society in order to secure votes and influence, and send money to finance projects for corporate or foreign allies at the cost of running up the national debt with no remorse. Legislators complacent in the status quo system view the separation of currency and state as anathema to the concept of government due to the fact that it reduces their ability to carry out spending, sometimes massively, without checks. In addition, the thought of such a radical departure is only viewed as such due to the fact that nations were technologically unable to do so until now thanks to the advancement in computing as well as blockchain technology.

The adoption of Bitcoin as an official currency by any nation actually demonstrates that government’s adherence of fiduciary responsibility to its citizens. In doing so, a government handicaps itself in being able to run to the printing press and debase their currency all the while reducing citizen’s wealth through inflation. Instead, the government returns to what it should be doing, which is justify every item in a budget as well as balance it. This in itself will cause a government to become more transparent and reduce corruption greatly as well as strengthen democracy.

Challenges

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the ability of government to borrow. This will hamper economic growth due to the fact that government and business have become acclimated to artificial growth by the government increasing its debt holdings especially in recent decades, therefore creating economic expansion that was never wholly justified or possible without careless financial management. This shift will have a detrimental effect on citizens and nations alike.

Another downside to an adoption of Bitcoin by one or a few nations is the surrender of a powerful weapon, devaluation of currency. The continual back and forth bickering between the US, China, EU, etc. about currency devaluation is only possible when central banks control a fiat currency, once a nation surrenders that ability, they are no longer able to fight on equal footing against a fiat currency-based nation. This could have negative effects in the interim for such a nation’s industries when it comes to exporting goods. Finally, the establishment of Bitcoin will have a large effect on the concept of credit as is known in its current form. Markets will need to devise a new way for credit creation in a world absent of fiat currency and what it means to have credit.

Conclusion

As Bitcoin continues to grow in popularity and garner more attention by investors, everyday users and even politicians, the inevitable reality of Bitcoin becoming a national currency is on the horizon. Such a currency contains the potential to prevent the financial roller coaster that is being observed in nations such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Yet, in the interim, early adopters will face many challenges and impediments as they transition into a Bitcoin-based monetary system but such bumps will pay off in the long term.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Economy

Asia-Pacific Business Environment Improves 7.3%

MD Staff

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Doing business in APEC member economies continues to get easier, according to a new report, helping to open up trade and growth opportunities in the Asia-Pacific against the backdrop of rising uncertainty.

An analysis of business conditions in APEC economies by the APEC Policy Support Unit reveals a 7.3 per cent improvement over the last two years, boosted by their ambitious ease of doing business initiative being taken forward by economic officials in Port Moresby.

The initiative is focused on five priority areas: 1) Getting credit; 2) starting a business; 3) dealing with construction permits; 4) enforcing contracts; and 5) trading across borders.

“APEC region officials’ efforts to raise the quality of their regulations are steadily making it cheaper and more efficient to do business in the Asia-Pacific,” explained Carlos Kuriyama, a Senior Analyst with the APEC Policy Support Unit and report co-author.

“Getting credit is the area where APEC has had the biggest business environment breakthrough, driven by stronger legal rights and credit information systems,” Kuriyama noted. “The average availability of credit information in the region increased from about 74 per cent to over 77 per cent of adults.”

Starting a new business meanwhile improved 11.8 per cent, taking nearly three fewer days and with all but one APEC economy eliminating minimum capital requirements.

Other measures employed in select instances which contributed to this trend included halting the need for a company seal to register a business as well as the introduction of an e-platform to expedite business permit applications.

Progress in trading across borders was marked by a 6.5 per cent reduction in the average time it takes businesses in APEC economies to export, from 70 to just over 65 hours. Dealing with construction permits took one less day to obtain.

“The move in the APEC region towards smarter, more modernized regulations is timely as digital development creates new avenues for businesses to engage in cross-border trade, including small and micro enterprises with limited resources,” said Kuriyama.

APEC economies are targeting a 10 per cent improvement in the region’s business environment by the end of 2019, based on 2015 levels in the five APEC Ease of Doing Business initiative priority areas. The initiative is inspired by the World Bank’s Doing Business program.

The exchange of good regulatory practices and implementation guidance, drawing upon experiences and recommendations garnered from public-private sector engagement in APEC, is at the center of the initiative’s work.

“Collaboration across APEC economies to improve their ease of doing business has achieved good results so far,” said Kuriyama. “The area with the most room for improvement is in enforcing contracts, with gains mostly stemming from higher quality of judicial processes.”

“Sustained reform and capacity building activities in APEC that focus on qualitative aspects of regulation like sustainability are critical to ensuring the momentum of business development and trade in the region at this challenging juncture,” Kuriyama concluded.

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Strong wage policies are key to promote inclusive growth in India

MD Staff

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While India’s economy in the past two decades has seen an annual average GDP rate of 7 % — low pay and inequality persist according to the India Wage Report: Wage policies for decent work and inclusive growth , published by the International Labour Organization.

The NSSO estimates also indicate that the real average daily wage has doubled between 1993—94 and 2011—12. Wages have seen a faster growth for the most vulnerable categories including workers in rural areas, informal employment, casual workers, female workers and low-paid occupations. Nevertheless, there remain huge disparities.

As per the Employment and Unemployment Survey (EUS) of National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), in 2011–12, the average wage in India was about 247 rupees (INR) per day, and the average wage of casual workers was an estimated INR 143 per day. Only a limited number of regular/salaried workers, mostly in the urban areas, and the highly-skilled professionals earned higher average wages.

Casual rural female worker earns the least, pervasive inequality

India’s economic growth has resulted in fall in poverty, moderate change in employment patterns with a growing proportion of workers in services and industry. However, a substantial proportion of workers (47%), continue to be employed in the agricultural sector. The economy still faces informality and segmentation.  More than 51 % of the total employed in India, as per 2011—12 data, were self-employed and 62 % of wage earners are employed as casual workers. While the organized sector has seen a rise in employment, many jobs in this sector too have been of casual or informal nature.

Though the overall wage inequality in India has declined somewhat since 2004—05, it continues to remain high. The decline in overall wage inequality has been largely due to the doubling of the wages of casual workers between 1993-94 and 2011-12. Nonetheless, the sharp increase in wage inequality for regular workers between 1993-94 and 2004-05 has stabilized in 2011-12.

The gender wage gap however is still steep, as per international standards, despite having declined from 48% in 1993—94 to 34% in 2011—12. The wage gap exists for all kind of workers – regular and casual, urban and rural. The women employed as casual workers in the rural economy earn the lowest in India, which is 22% of what urban regular male workers earn.

Although, the average labour productivity (as measured by the GDP per worker has increased), the labour share, which is the proportion of national income that goes into labour compensation has declined from 38.5% in 1981 to 35.4% in 2013.

Wage policies for decent work and inclusive growth

Though India was one of the first countries to introduce minimum wages through the Minimum Wages Act in 1948, there exist challenges in providing a universal wage floor for all workers. The minimum wage system in India is quite complex. The minimum wages are set by state governments for employees in selected ‘scheduled’ employment and this has led to 1709 different rates across the country. As the coverage is not complete these rates are applicable for an estimated of 66 % of wage workers.

A national minimum wage floor was introduced in the 1990s which has progressively increased to INR 176 per day in 2017 but this wage floor is not legally binding, in spite of a recurrent discussion since the 1970s. In 2009—10, nearly 15 % of salaried workers and 41% of casual workers earned less than this indicative national minimum wage. About 62 million workers are still paid less than the indicative national minimum wage with the rate of low pay being higher for women than for men.

The report calls for several recommendations to improve the current minimum wage system. Some of these are – extending legal coverage to all workers in an employment relationship, ensuring full consultation with social partners on minimum wage systems, undertaking regular evidence-based adjustments, progressively consolidating and simplifying minimum wage structures, and taking stronger measures to ensure a more effective application of minimum wage law. It also calls for collection of statistical data on a timely and regular basis.

The report also recommends other complementary actions to comprehensively address how to achieve decent work and inclusive growth. These include, fostering accumulation of skills to boost labour productivity and growth for sustainable enterprises, promoting equal pay for work of equal value, formalizing the informal economy and strengthening social protection for workers.

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Turkey’s financial crisis raises questions about China’s debt-driven development model

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Financial injections by Qatar and possibly China may resolve Turkey’s immediate economic crisis, aggravated by a politics-driven trade war with the United States, but are unlikely to resolve the country’s structural problems, fuelled by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s counterintuitive interest rate theories.

The latest crisis in Turkey’s boom-bust economy raises questions about a development model in which countries like China and Turkey witness moves towards populist rule of one man who encourages massive borrowing to drive economic growth.

It’s a model minus the one-man rule that could be repeated in Pakistan as newly sworn-in prime minister Imran Khan, confronted with a financial crisis, decides whether to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or rely on China and Saudi Arabia for relief.

Pakistan, like Turkey, has over the years frequently knocked on the IMF’s doors, failing to have turned crisis into an opportunity for sustained restructuring and reform of the economy. Pakistan could in the next weeks be turning to the IMF for the 13th time, Turkey, another serial returnee, has been there 18 times.

In Turkey and China, the debt-driven approach sparked remarkable economic growth with living standards being significantly boosted and huge numbers of people being lifted out of poverty. Yet, both countries with Turkey more exposed, given its greater vulnerability to the swings and sensitivities of international financial markets, are witnessing the limitations of the approach.

So are, countries along China’s Belt and Road, including Pakistan, that leaped head over shoulder into the funding opportunities made available to them and now see themselves locked into debt traps that in the case of Sri Lanka and Djibouti have forced them to effectively turn over to China control of critical national infrastructure or like Laos that have become almost wholly dependent on China because it owns the bulk of their unsustainable debt.

The fact that China may be more prepared to deal with the downside of debt-driven development does little to make its model sustainable or for that matter one that other countries would want to emulate unabridged and has sent some like Malaysia and Myanmar scrambling to resolve or avert an economic crisis.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is in China after suspending US$20 billion worth of Beijing-linked infrastructure contracts, including a high-speed rail line to Singapore, concluded by his predecessor, Najib Razak, who is fighting corruption charges.

Mr. Mahathir won elections in May on a campaign that asserted that Mr. Razak had ceded sovereignty to China by agreeing to Chinese investments that failed to benefit the country and threaten to drown it in debt.

Myanmar is negotiating a significant scaling back of a Chinese-funded port project on the Bay of Bengal from one that would cost US$ 7.3 billion to a more modest development that would cost US$1.3 billion in a bid to avoid shouldering an unsustainable debt.

Debt-driven growth could also prove to be a double-edged sword for China itself even if it is far less dependent than others on imports, does not run a chronic trade deficit, and doesn’t have to borrow heavily in dollars.

With more than half the increase in global debt over the past decade having been issued as domestic loans in China, China’s risk, said Ruchir Sharma, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Global Strategist and head of Emerging Markets Equity, is capital fleeing to benefit from higher interest rates abroad.

“Right now Chinese can earn the same interest rates in the United States for a lot less risk, so the motivation to flee is high, and will grow more intense as the Fed raises rates further,” Mr. Sharma said referring to the US Federal Reserve.

Mr. Erdogan has charged that the United States abetted by traitors and foreigners are waging economic warfare against Turkey, using a strong dollar as ”the bullets, cannonballs and missiles.”

Rejecting economic theory and wisdom, Mr. Erdogan has sought for years to fight an alleged ‘interest rate lobby’ that includes an ever-expanding number of financiers and foreign powers seeking to drive Turkish interest rates artificially high to damage the economy by insisting that low interest rates and borrowing costs would contain price hikes.

In doing so, he is harking back to an approach that was popular in Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s that may not be wholly wrong but similarly may also not be universally applicable.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) warned late last year that Turkey’s “gross external financing needs to cover the current account deficit and external debt repayments due within a year are estimated at around 25 per cent of GDP in 2017, leaving the country exposed to global liquidity conditions.”

With two international credit rating agencies reducing Turkish debt to junk status in the wake of Turkey’s economically fought disputes with the United States, the government risks its access to foreign credits being curtailed, which could force it to extract more money from ordinary Turks through increased taxes. That in turn would raise the spectre of recession.

“Turkey’s troubles are homegrown, and the economic war against it is a figment of Mr. Erdogan’s conspiratorial imagination. But he does have a point about the impact of a surging dollar, which has a long history of inflicting damage on developing nations,” Mr. Sharma said.

Nevertheless, as The Wall Street Journal concluded, the vulnerability of Turkey’s debt-driven growth was such that it only took two tweets by US President Donald J. Trump announcing sanctions against two Turkish ministers and the doubling of some tariffs to accelerate the Turkish lira’s tailspin.

Mr. Erdogan may not immediately draw the same conclusion, but it is certainly one that is likely to serve as a cautionary note for countries that see debt, whether domestic or associated with China’s infrastructure-driven Belt and Road initiative, as a main driver of growth.

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