[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] H [/yt_dropcap]istorically speaking, the promotion of intelligence culture in France has been required to clash with both a problematical and controversial linguistic orientation and a much deeper and more influential attitude: France’s inability or unwillingness to reason in terms of power, and therefore take a position on economic warfare one way or another.
This reticence may be explained by the fact that on more than one occasion in its relatively recent past France has had to ally with its enemy, in this way stripping the word “patriotism” of its meaning. Every time a group committed to the conquest of power allied with the enemy, the French lost faith in patriotic ideals. This happened with the succession of Louis XVIII after Napoleon in 1815, with the support given to Bismarck against the Commune Uprising in 1870, and with the collaboration with Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Also the Colonial Wars and the Cold War contributed to creating a certain disillusionment with patriotism, while the concept of power came to be considered purely as an act of domination at the same time. In any case, not betraying the ideals that lie at the basis of the history of the French Republic – from those underlying the French Revolution of 1789 to those of the Nazi-Fascist Resistance of 1945 (these latter inspired by an economic system of Keynesian inspiration), and not forgetting the spirit and dedication of men who, like General De Gaulle, interpreted national power as autonomy while providing prospects for the economy as well – means empowering a nation that is both strategic and a partner to the nation’s most vital parts at the same time. This is what the experts and supporters of business intelligence in France have been trying to accomplish for the last forty years.
The ‘70s: reticence and defensive action
It is not easy to determine the real date of birth of the tradition of French economic warfare. Even if today it might be ranked among the most prominent on the European continent, in fact, the negative connotations attributed by French culture to intelligence operations, which are unjustly associated with spying, the violation of privacy, and deceitful campaigns, conditioned it and limited its development for a long time. The comparison with the public information policies – defined as a “body of laws, regulations, directives, interpretations and sentences of law that direct and orient the information lifecycle, [which] includes the planning and creation, production, collection, distribution, and disclosure of information” – enacted by the United States government after the Second World War undoubtedly provided an important incentive for French public authorities, which towards the end of the ‘70s began to understand the need to fill the gap that risked seriously penalizing France in terms of national (political) independence and strategic autonomy (in the economic field). It would take more than a decade, however, in order for the imperative of competitiveness in global markets, necessary at corporate level, to be fully comprehended also by the public administration and to take form in an evident expansion of the range of action of government intervention. If up until that moment the management of information throughout its entire lifecycle had been finalized exclusively for the internal purposes of the various institutions, starting from the end of the ‘80s it began assuming central importance in defining the government’s economic policy and creating a fundamental “alliance” between the public and private sectors.
The first to realize the importance of the advantage held by the United States in the management of information for social and economic development, around the end of the 70s, were Serge Cacaly, on one hand, and Simon Nora and Alain Minc, on the other. The former, an information and communication science researcher, published two studies in 1977. One, emblematically entitled Le révolution documentaire aux États-Unis, emphasized the importance of recognizing information as the driving force behind progress as closely linked to extraordinary developments in computer science and its increasing advances in qualitatively and quantitatively analyzing documents on the other side of the Atlantic. Information, even if still masked by the skirmishes of the Cold War that preceded military and space research, was becoming the one most important sector on which world supremacy could be based.
In the wake of these studies, in 1978 the high functionary Nora and the younger political advisor Minc presented the President of the French Republic with the report entitled L’informatisation de la société, which for the first time, together with the acknowledgement of the United States’ ambition for world supremacy in science and technology based on information management, revealed the French fear of such domination and its potential impact on society and the control of power. It is symptomatic that this attitude transpires from a document of political orientation and here lies the origin of the French government action to stimulate the activities of collecting, processing, and distributing information. Nora and Minc, in fact, repeatedly emphasized the government’s role as the holder of a power of influence derived directly from the social contract and national unity based on guarantees, a power that must be applied also to the new technologies and the control of the same. Public intervention in the information field is therefore not only fundamental but even necessary for society in order to avoid the risk of domination concretely posed by US supremacy in the field of information. The words that the two authors used to express this concept are strong indeed: “[…] it is the entire future of the French-speaking world and the identity of France that is being placed at risk” . On the other hand, these considerations were supported by constant reference to real data: the number of computers imported (more than 80% of the entire fleet of French information technology equipment was produced by the USA), but above all the control of the reference databases (seven out of eleven databases controlled by the United States) . This latter element, in particular, is crucially important as databases are essential in economic, technical, scientific, and academic activities, because they are sites of conservation of information that can be accessed only under determined conditions and enable research also from far away. Real power does not come from merely knowing data and information but controlling it, with the possibility to manipulate and decide who else can do this as well. The fact that such power was left nearly exclusively in the hands of foreign powers was therefore deemed a highly alarming loss of sovereignty by Nora and Minc. Hence, these two authors proposed that the government take action and develop a vigorous policy in supporting research, forming a national industry in the information field, and developing telecommunications infrastructure, stimulating these activities from both the juridical and financial points of view.
Analyzing the government’s real situation in the moment that these proposals were made, or in other words, which public institutions were effectively involved in managing information, a fairly varied panorama is revealed. First of all, we see the INSEE (National Statistics and Economic Studies Institute), the nearly exclusive producer and distributor of statistical and economic data and the direct heir to a concept that stood at the origin of the modern state itself, when back in the 17th century, “statistics”, in other words “whatever regards the state”, began supplying an indispensible tool for the exercise of government. As regards instead the management of information on the international situation, every single government department handles the task by itself: the Defense Ministry’s Evaluation and Forecast Center, the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Analysis and Forecast Center, the Ministry of Industry’s Observatory on Industrial Strategy, the General Commission on the Plan, International Information and Forecast Study Center, and the Ministry of the Economy’s Forecast Directorate. In any case, this picture only confirms what had already been confirmed above: a similar structure was destined exclusively to responding to the needs for information and analysis inside the administration. The comparison with the United States, where the distribution of the information collected by public and private organisms working in the sector in favor of the nation’s economic operators was a well-consolidated practice instead, and economic crises such as the oil crisis of the ‘70s would emphasize the need for imperative of competitiveness that the French government would no longer be able to ignore and that would bring it to modify its structures and methods of action in the information field. Information policy, which was still uncertain , consisted of a system that tended to privilege defensive actions more often than offensive actions, even if performed in the logic of national independence and strategic autonomy. The imperative need for competitiveness clearly revealed all the limits of an approach such as this one.
The ‘80s: the first change
The first attempts at a change of direction in government action were made in the ’80s in the system of aids given to companies: instead of interventions that privileged direct subsidies, a system of indirect aid based more on supporting innovation was adopted. Furthermore, whereas previously government aid was concentrated on the larger industrial groups, the new system was characterized by the shifting of importance to small-and-medium sized companies. These new methods of government intervention associated with the introduction in France of new business strategy tools destined to anticipate the changes in the environments finally succeeded in launching the diffusion of information culture, particularly in regard to scientific and technical information, which in the time of a decade would lead to the effective adoption of a business intelligence policy.
The French Ministry’s Evaluation and Forecast Center may be considered the party most responsible for this new partnership between the government and the nation’s businesses and the important stimulus given to information culture. Envisioned at the start of the 80s by the current Minister of Technology and Research on the model of the above-mentioned Defense Ministry’s Evaluation and Forecast Center and initially directed by Thierry Gaudin and Marcel Bayen, the CPE was dedicated to evaluating research, industrial strategies, and forecasts but above all to so-called “technological monitoring”. This term was rendered popular by Jacques Morin, a technology transfer consultant, to indicate a company function in support of real business activities that represented “[…] the testimony of the determination to supervise the technological business environment for strategic purposes and to identify the threats which – if intelligently anticipated – might even be transformed into opportunities for innovation. It also implies that an internal system of appropriate information exists for the exploitation of the results” .
Comparison with the United States, but also with Japan, where the culture of adapting company behavior to changes imposed from the outside is an integral part of the managerial mentality, continued to be in France’s disfavor. The nation’s delay was once again made clear, especially in regard to its scarce use of databases, which were considered merely as archives and not as active instruments of the monitoring function. Hope arose for the assignment of such function to highly specialized managers capable of developing a strategy, at the very least, as well as substantial information science development in the field of documentation. The environmental monitoring approach had already been anticipated by Humbert Lesca . It consisted in a systematic approach to the company’s openness to the regional, national, and international environment with the explicit intention, from the organization’s bottom to its top, of not being caught off guard by change and evolving along with it or even before it in the implementation of a structured device finalized to receiving the signals coming from outside. The monitoring, according to the definition provided by Lesca, would therefore be a “system by means of which the company scrutinizes its own ‘external’ surroundings and anticipates the changes, as far as possible, [transforming] the raw information it has on its environment into a form of business intelligence serving its own future.”
The Evaluation and Forecast Center was therefore actively committed to monitoring activity at national level and gathering information on the international scene regarding questions of scientific and technical interest, technological innovation, and the multinationals. The beneficiaries of this activity were, above all, a number of sectors deemed strategic, such as materials development, information technology, and biotechnologies. In addition to the development of these skills by itself and directly at the service of the Ministry of Research and Technology, this Center was also involved in distributing its studies and analyses in the private sector, especially to the advantage of consulting companies and other public actors. Its objective was to achieve independence, once again, from the US power that appeared threatening also in the context of strategic studies and monitoring operations, thanks to the spread and activities of its own consultancy companies. The institution halfway through the ’80s of the Aditech Association, the nerve center in the development of business intelligence in France, was the work of the Center’s directors for the purpose of facilitating this activity of external diffusion and the signing of contracts with companies in the private sector.
The famous Study No. 100 written by two experts, Bernard Nadoulek and Christian Harbulot, who made important contributions to the business intelligence in France, was published as part of Aditech research activity. The former was a professor of the French Karate Federation who had begun teaching martial arts at Club Montagne Sainte Geneviève in 1971, in addition to being acclaimed for publishing articles and books about the struggle against power and strategy (a subject on which he became a consultant in 1986), such as Du karaté à l’autonomie politique or Désobéissance civile et luttes autonomes. The latter was a close associate of his, a former Maoist militant and member of the same karate club with whom he signed articles entitled Le Conflit gradué and Affrontements de théâtre et verrou panaméricain. In particular, Christian Harbulot, who would fill the role of aggregating the three prevailing models of intelligence at the time – military, diplomatic, and police – establishing the unity of economic patriotism and society’s revolution through the notion of economic warfare for which business intelligence would serve as a vector. On the other hand, the term “economic warfare” is an expression that was often and willingly used also outside the restricted specialized field of business intelligence in those years, particularly by politicians. One example, Lettre à tous les français written by President François Mitterrand in 1988, even contains a section entitled “Le guerre économique mondiale” in which he emphasized the ferocity of competition between companies in the international market.
It is therefore L’intelligence stratégique that marked the real change of pace, at least in intentions, in the context of business intelligence in France, given that the instruments proposed by its two authors referred entirely to military strategy and ideological warfare. A change in terminology was suggested in order for the strategic actions of the companies and the state to be able to finally shift from a defensive position to authentic offensive action thanks to a new approach to competition based on the study of the dynamics of competitive behavior upon which to establish principles of action for company managers. Practically speaking, this study provided a key to interpretation and a functional method for the development of business strategy devised around three matrices directly inspired by combat techniques . The latter were: direct action on the situation and relationships of force, short-term business plan strategy; indirect action on the system, the protagonists, and relations, mid-term strategy that acts on the scenario in which the company seeks partnerships and alliances but also diversification in regard to competitors; taking anticipatory action on the context, on the rules of the game, and on the forces, and long-term strategy that is merely the business plan.
The ‘90s: the definitive consecration
The second half of the ‘80s had already given significant propulsion to the development of business intelligence in France thanks to the re-launching of a national policy in favor of the aforementioned scientific and technical information, which was further increased by the activity of its leading competitor nations: the United States and Japan. It was, however, the radical change of the international scenario , with the fall of communism, the end of the Cold War and the dynamics of the face-off between the two power blocks that had characterized the international – also economic – relations of the past forty years and the consequent dominance of the mechanics of globalization with its questioning of the autonomy and power of the national state, that led to the definitive consecration of business intelligence in France. The Martre Report, drafted by Philippe Baumard, Philippe Clerc and Christian Harbulot, among others, was the milestone. Published in February 1994, the report from the General Commission on the Plan defined business intelligence as follows: “the aggregate of the coordinated actions of research, processing, and distribution of information useful to economic operators for the purpose of capitalizing on the same. These various actions are conducted legally with all the guarantees of protection necessary for the conservation of the nation’s business heritage, in the best conditions of quality, time, and cost. Useful information is deemed that which requires various decision-making levels of in the company and the community for the development and coherent implementation of the strategy and tactics necessary to achieve determined objectives with the purpose of improving their positions in the context of the surrounding competition […]. The notion of business intelligence implies transcending the single actions designated with the terms of documentation, monitoring […], and the defense of the nation’s competitive heritage and influence […]” . In other words, business intelligence was defined as the chain of operations that range from the collection of useful information from open sources to the transmission of material to the governmental decision-makers assigned to the formulation of strategies for national defense and the reinforcement of the nation as a system, actively involving the private sector. Before presenting the tangible processes to be marshaled by the protagonists of business intelligence in France (the state, banks, companies, and other local agencies), the report summarized a number of previous studies that made comparisons with the business intelligence systems of other nations considered as models and that should inspire in certain ways the future French development in this sense. The United Kingdom and Sweden represented the two precursor nations. The former was the home of intelligence also from the lexical point of view, and there it is immediately understandable and its integration in any system political decision-making is natural. The latter, instead, was strong on the basis of a collective effort at national level and favored by its cultural homogeneity, for the construction of strategic information engineering in which public (university) and private (companies) institutions work together.
As regards Germany, Japan, and the United States, while the institution in the modern sense of business intelligence in the first two nations was traced back to the ‘30s and the presentation of the same reflected the content in large measure of the two works cited in the footnote, in the latter the more recent developments after the fall of communism and fervently desired by the Clinton administration were emphasized, and fervently desired by the Clinton administration, which by that point had made such an investment in economic security as to create an organization dedicated expressly to the purpose, the National Economic Council. France now has nothing to envy to these nations in terms of business intelligence, which in its own way benefits from a certain tradition and history. What has been lacking, however, is the passage to a collective and national information system. This has been hindered primarily by two factors mentioned previously but clearly and incontrovertibly illustrated in the report: firstly, the barrier existing between the administration and the companies, and secondly, a certain passivity in the actions of these latter, which were too often limited to technological monitoring in a defensive and protective sense.
The vocabulary adopted by the authors of the report addresses this second point in a decisive way. Based largely on the works of Christian Harbulot, the use of terms such as “offensive action”, “competitive aggression”, and “power relations”, indicates the hoped for and necessary evolution in the context of French business intelligence while shunning the use of the term “renseignement” due to its negative connotation that nearly always evokes dirty police practices. It is however restricted by the use of the concept of monitoring, which evokes an approach that is insufficiently dynamic that for as much as it is indispensible should also be supplemented by offensive actions in the field. As regards an action intended to overcome the limit represented by the first point, the authors themselves contributed to the construction of business intelligence and the formulation of these new elements of language and disclosed them to the public. One important example is a serious discussion dedicated to the theme “Business intelligence: information at the service of competitiveness” organized in Parliament in June, 1994, by ADIT with the presence of various representatives of the group of the General Commission on the Plan responsible for the drafting of the Martre Report, including Henri Martre himself, Jacques Villain, François Jakobiak, and Bruno Martinet .
A fundamental role was also played by the work begun at the end of 1994 by Philippe Caduc at ADIT and Rémy Pautrat at the SGDN (National Defense Secretary General) with the idea of transforming business intelligence into an object of public intervention. Pautrat, in particular, a former director of the Directorate of Territorial Monitoring and Prefect, attempted to effectively implement his vision of an administration at the service of the companies, given that his objective to create a National coordination structure was inspired by the model of operation of the United States National Economic Council. In the opinion of Pautrat, the efficiency of the state as the producer of data, analyses, and strategies depends on the depth of its awareness of the needs of its industries. For such purpose, together with the ADIT Director, he drafted an action plan composed of ten priority actions, ten new proposals to be added to the four made by the General Commission on the Plan , taking into consideration the international scenario and the development of Internet with greater awareness. In addition to re-appropriating a national approach that for various reasons had been neglected, the other actions proposed by the two experts regarded education and training. These included the institution of organizations ad hoc; the already repeatedly invoked creation of national databases to be marshaled against those managed by competitor nations in order to provide French companies with real knowledge of the sectors in which they operate and information on their competitiveness in foreign markets; and the development of skill centers specialized in Internet technologies, in light of its growing importance. They also included the presence of France in the international moments of standardization in this field, with a similar presence through key roles at the most important international organizations and two research efforts – one that recognized the sources available and their methods of diffusion in the United States and Japan, the other a list of foreign experts in the subject who had lived in France – both innovative and strategic in the sense of possibly anticipating the moves of competitor nations, and consequently, offensive and not merely defensive actions. The coordination of this action plan was entrusted to the CCSE (Committee for Economic Security and Competitiveness), an inter-ministerial structure open to qualified external experts so fervently desired by Pautrat and set up with an agreement signed on February 1st, 1995.
It is above all in the world of education and training, a fundamental field of action indicated in both the Martre Report and the CCSE action plan that concrete developments were made in the second half of the 90s. In order to respond to the new need for specialists capable of integrating business intelligence into company administration processes, thus enabling the challenges posed by global competition and the information society to be faced as protagonists, following a period of support provided from training centers more specialized in the organization of seminars, conferences, and specialization courses, as of 1995 many faculties of economy and commerce and polytechnic schools began providing specialization courses in “business intelligence” and graduate courses in Business Economics and Company Administration. One example is the CESD (Strategic Defense Studies Center) instituted at the University of Marne-la-Vallée for the purpose of promoting the study and research in business intelligence and creating a crucible of ideas regarding defense and security in modern society.
This process led to the establishment of a School of Economic Warfare at the Higher School of Applied Business Sciences in Paris by Christian Harbulot and the former director of EIREL (the Inter-force School of Intelligence and Linguistic Studies) in Strasburg, general Jean Pichot-Duclos, in 1997. For Harbulot, the creation of this school filled two specific needs: the study in greater detail and depth of the dynamics underlying the relationships between economic forces, and the civil applications of information warfare, given that the latter notion was absent from the strategic planning of the companies, administrations and local authorities. The people trained by this school, approximately seven-hundred students since its creation, would become “experts in the management of information and power relations”. Parallel to this development in the educational world and as a direct consequence of the same, publications and research on the subject have increased in the last twenty years. In the world of publication, two aspects were manifested at nearly the same time: a notable increase in the production of French business intelligence as of 1995, with the creation of ad hoc series by the nation’s leading publishers (such as the “Culture du renseignement” series published since 1999 by Harmattan) and a decline in the publication of books written by foreigners on the subject. From the academic point of view, in the past twenty years many Master’s/PhD degree theses have been dedicated to a topic that is interdisciplinary by nature because it embraces subjects that range from history to political science, from law to economic science, and naturally, to information technology and communication. The analysis of this academic production reveals the progress of what might be considered, and what we have tried to represent with this contribution, as a truly and specifically French school of business intelligence.
Is Your Neighborhood Store Safe? Amazon and Store Closings
Amazon has reached the far corners of the earth… and the highest elevations. Delivery men venture 11,562 feet up in the Himalayas to leave a package. While the company may serve a useful purpose in remote regions, its phenomenal growth also reveals that no town is immune from its less desirable consequences. The online retailer’s omnipresence has been all too apparent in Chicago, New York, and London in recent months, where stores have been closing in droves.
Treasure Island Foods of Chicago, a family-owned business started by Christ Kamberos in 1963, announced at the end of September that after 55 years it was closing all remaining stores in just two weeks. Now, the lights are out and the shadows empty shelves are all that remain, with the scent of fresh sourdough and gyros cooking on the spit only in shoppers’ reminiscences as they walk by the darkened windows.
Julia Child once described Treasure Island as “America’s Most European Supermarket.” In my memory, it was unforgettable. The stores always had treasure troves for every season, from delicious green picholine olives from France, to liver pâté and English Blue Stilton at Christmas, and of course, Marmite. Not to mention exotic cookies and chocolates from all over the world: marzipan and chocolate from Switzerland and Austria, shortbread from Scotland, and crisp butter wafers from the Netherlands are a few examples. It was a haven for special gifts during the holidays.
Treasure Island was not alone in the struggle to survive amidst food delivery apps and Amazon. Not only were customers buying goods online, but Amazon was also shifting into the grocery market by taking over Whole Foods. Not surprisingly, Chicago’s other local grocery chain Dominick’s closed in 2014. The city lost one of its most beloved bakeries too in 2017 when the Swedish Bakery closed after 88 years in business. Gone were the days of mouth-watering rum balls, Princess Torte laden with green marzipan, and toska cake. In its final days an estimated 500 customers per day flocked in to have one last tasty treat.
Purchasing items online might be convenient but the trend has serious costs for many industries, not only food. Retail has been hit hard. Sears recently filed for bankruptcy and is closing 142 stores. So did Toys R Us, shuttering its outlets last summer. Luxury goods retailer Henri Bendel announced in September that its stores will be closing too, after 123 years.
What’s more the change is not just in the United States. In the UK, Marks & Spencer plans to close 100 stores by 2022. Debenhams and House of Fraser in London are also in trouble. In March of 2018, Sweden’s H & M reported the lowest first quarter profits in more than a decade, down 62%. When large international stores are being squeezed, one can understand how local shops are struggling to keep afloat. A recent Atlantic article observes that Manhattan is becoming a “rich ghost town.” So many store fronts once filled with interesting items are now empty, a trend that the author predicts will move to other cities. Will the choices for future shoppers be restricted to chain stores and dark unrented windows? Local small retailers unable to afford high rents are gradually being nudged out of existence. They need help.
Could Local Currencies Save Our Neighborhood Stores?
Switzerland has had the WIR since 1934 and Ithaca, New York introduced its own currency known as Ithaca Hours in 1991. Ithaca Hours started out with 90 individuals who were willing to accept the currency as a payment for their work, and expanded to become one of the largest local currency systems in the U.S. Ithaca’s example was an inspiration for municipal systems in Madison, Wisconsin, and Corvallis, Oregon.
The UK also has several local currencies including the Bristol Pound. The former Mayor of Bristol accepted his entire salary in Bristol Pounds, and more than 800 businesses accept the local currency.
Once local currencies are in circulation, consumers can continue using their national currency to purchase from large retailers and from online giants like Amazon. Their local currency, though, is typically used at local businesses.
As an example, were a Chicago currency implemented, consumers might use their U.S. dollars to purchase goods online but would use their Chicago currency to buy locally. Legislators and communities could thus lend a helping hand to local gems that remain in our towns. Lutz Cafe and Pastry Shop, for instance, established in 1948, is unique to Chicago, and creates some of the most delicious cakes in the world.
By 2003, there were over 1,000 local currencies in North America and Europe. Yet this is a mere fraction of the total number of cities. If local currencies expanded to a majority of towns, perhaps our beloved neighborhood stores would be able to survive the online onslaught.
The Benefits of Preserving Local Shops
Consumers lose a service every time a small shop shuts down. A local paint store, for instance, can provide advice on what paint to use for a particular purpose, how to use it, etc. Nowadays, in many towns, these stores have closed. Consumers’ options are limited to buying online without input from an expert, or from a large national chain, where they will be lucky to find advice comparable to that from a specialized store. The same holds true for many kinds of home repair.
Then there is the charm of familiar faces at the corner store. Growing up near Treasure Island as a child, I could scarcely forget the cherry-cheeked cherub-like server at the deli counter. After noticing this eight-year-old’s tendency to gorge on free olive samples once a week, he would always laugh heartily with those chubby cheeks and remark with a chuckle that I would end up eating all the olives before reaching the check out line. Ordering specialty olives online is just not the same. There may be no checkout line, but also no one to talk or joke with. The same is true for the automated Amazon Go stores. The nice deli server today is out of a job after decades of service.
Another hidden cost of online purchases is environmental. Aside from fossil fuel emissions, delivery of a parcel requires packaging, and often bubble wrap, made of low-density polyethylene, a form of plastic that comprises 20% of global plastic pollution. Reusable bags and a neighborhood store within walking distance are clearly better for the environment.
Amazon’s reach extends to places like Leh, India, high in the snow-covered Himalayas, where many of its goods may not be available in town. And one can appreciate and understand the value of online purchases in such rural communities. In fact that was exactly the original purpose of Sears with its iconic catalogue.
Yet in cities where one can readily buy the same items in stores nearby, we have to try to refrain from the convenience of one-click shopping. The more we purchase online items, the more we pollute the environment and kill local stores. Without small businesses, cities will eventually become homogenized with block after block of chain retailers, or dark empty windows, as has started to happen in Manhattan. The character of a quaint town or a trendy metropolis becomes obsolete.
Gone will be the unique gift shops and the luxury tailor. When the British high street becomes indistinguishable from U.S. ghost towns and when the only place to eat is a chain burger joint, the fun of traveling and the adventure of new places will be lost forever. The vibrant world of new flavors and experiences will be no more.
So please think twice before clicking an online purchase. You may be signing your local store’s death warrant.
Author’s note: this piece first appeared in CounterPunch.org
Azerbaijan: Just-in-time support for the economy
Over the last two decades, oil has been the defining factor for Azerbaijan; not only for its economic growth but also for its development. During the first ten years of the millennium, Azerbaijan experienced an explosion in wealth. As oil GDP, comprising half of the sectoral share of the economy, grew by an average of 21 percent per year, fueled by global upsurge of oil prices and increased production. Total GDP grew more than tenfold: from US$6 bn to US$66 bn. This was accompanied by rapid decline in poverty, from 49.6% to 7.6%, increase in real wages, and middle-class growth.
However, after the decline in global oil prices in 2014, nearly by half, the reduction of oil revenue caused a domino effect in the economy. The double devaluation of the Azerbaijani manat in 2015 erased half of the manat’s value against US dollar. and subsequent fiscal adjustment together with ongoing banking sector distress led to a 3.8% contraction in GDP (2016). This was accompanied with the rising of traditionally low levels of government debt (from 8.5% in 2014 to 22% in early 2018) primarily due to devaluation of manat.
On December sixth, 2016, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has signed a decree approving the “Strategic roadmaps for the national economy and main economic sectors.” The decree for reforms spanned across 11 sectors, from tourism to agriculture, and aimed to decrease the over-reliance to the oil and gas sector.
Azerbaijan – World Bank Partnership
Under very tight deadlines, Azerbaijani ministry of finance started working on a roadmap, that would reform the economy which had been impaired by a number of negative shocks such as lower oil prices, weak regional growth, currency devaluations in Azerbaijan’s main trading partners, and a contraction in hydrocarbon production. As a long-term partner of the World Bank Group (WBG), they reached out for support in developing a public finance strategy for the medium term at the beginning of 2016. To be able to broach such a broad project, different teams within WBG worked together closely to provide just-in-time support and to cover various facets of the macro-fiscal framework. Government Debt and Risk Management (GDRM) Program, a World Bank Treasury initiative targeting middle income countries funded by countries funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) worked on the debt management portion of the issue. The Macroeconomics, Trade and Investment Global Practice advised on macroeconomic and fiscal framework and debt sustainability analysis.
Providing a macro-fiscal outlook, analyzing debt sustainability and proposing debt management reforms
The ministry of finance and WBG joint teams had a thorough review of the macro-fiscal and borrowing conditions and honed in three interlinked issues:
- The need for sustainable financing: While the level of direct debt was expected to remain modest, the sharp increase in the issuance of public guarantees would lead the public and publicly-guaranteed (PPG) debt trajectory to be higher in the next five years.
- Fiscal Rules: Azerbaijan was exploring fiscal rules involving the use of the country’s oil assets, based on recommendations from the IMF.
- The country was facing high exchange-rate and interest-rate risks, due to 98% of the central government debt being in foreign currency and two thirds in variable interest rates.
With that in mind, the teams tested different borrowing strategies to cover the 2017-2021 period under baseline and different shock scenarios, analyzing debt sustainability, and the composition of the public debt portfolio weighing it against the national risk tolerance. They also recommended several measures to better enable the debt management operations: revising and submitting the Debt Management Law to parliament; improving the reporting system; improving the coordination between the ministry of finance; the central bank and the Sovereign Oil Fund; developing a credit risk assessment capacity in the ministry and improving the IT system, and eventually looking at developing a domestic debt market.
Azerbaijan develops the public finance strategy
In December 2017 Azerbaijan ministry of finance shared the debt management strategy, with the President’s office. The proposed strategy comprised a macroeconomic policy framework, a borrowing plan, and associated institutional and legal reforms. In August 2018, President Aliyev enacted and published the “Medium to long term debt management strategy for Azerbaijan Republic’s public debt”. The strategy outlines the main directions of the government borrowing during 2018-2025 based on sound analysis. It puts a limit of 30% of GDP for the public debt in the medium term, with a moderation to 20% of GDP by 2025. The authorities also envisage gradual rise in domestic debt, to develop the local currency government bond market. To reflect the changing macroeconomic outlook and financial conditions, the strategy document will be updated every two years.
“As World Bank, our mission is ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity,” said Elena Bondarenko, the Macroeconomics and Fiscal Management team member. “It is our privilege to provide just-in-time support to our member countries when they most need it. Especially if we can help build resilience to the economy before further shocks cause major damage.”. “The work doesn’t stop here,” said GDRM Program Task Team Leader Cigdem Aslan. “The GDRM Program will continue its support through the implementation phase of the recommendation and help build capacity for the development of the domestic market for government securities.”
Knowledge economy and Human Capital: What is the impact of social investment paradigm on employment?
Social policy advocates claim the development of the European welfare state model on three phases as follows: traditional welfare state until 1970s; neo-liberal welfare state until the mid-1990s and finally social investment state model afterwards of the mid-1990s. At the first time, on the European Union level, to bring the social investment policy to the political agendas after the 1990s economic hardship, the European Council adopted the Lisbon Strategy in 2000. In fact, the Lisbon Strategy was successful with respect to the employment. In the latter, the social investment state paradigm has fostered once more in the Europe with the “Social Investment Package: Towards Social Investment for Growth and Cohesion” in 2013 by the European Commission that targeted to “prepare” individuals, families and societies for the competitive knowledge economy by investing in human capital from an early childhood together with increase female participation in the workforce.
Generally, social investment idea emerged as a link between social insurance and activation in employment policies and upgrading human capital. Hemerijck (2014) defined the concept of the social investment state to facilitate the “flow” of labour market transitions, raising the quality of human capital “stock” and upkeeping strong minimum income guarantee as social protection and economic stabilization “buffers”. The underlying idea of the social investment strategy has been argued to modernize the traditional welfare states and guarantee their sustainability in line with the response to the “new social risks” such as skill erosion, flexible market, insufficient social insurance and job insecurity.
Economic aim of social investment paradigm is divided into two types by Ahn& Kim (2014),in the following way:The social democratic approach based on the example of the Nordic countries and the liberal approach of the Anglo-American countries. To make the distinguish more clear, the social democratic approach aims to increase the employment for all working classes and strength human capital. On the other hand, liberal approach applies selective strategy which is more workfare policy oriented and covers vulnerable class. In this regard, cross country analyses show that the Scandinavian countries have been the forerunners of social investment and perform the childcare and vulnerable group targeted policies at their best.
Studies have viewed the social investment state approach as a new form of the welfare state and reshaped social policy objectives that addressed to promote labour market participation for a sustainable employment rather than simply to fight against unemployment. Since the beginning, the social investment strategy directs to protect individuals from social and economic threats by investing in human capital through labour market trainings, female (family – career) and child care policies, provision of universal access to education from the childhood. On doing so, the social investment as a long term strategy aims to reduce the risk of future neediness in contrast to the traditional benefit oriented welfare state that focuses on short term mitigation of risks. Or to put it differently, the social investment “prepares” children and families against to economic and social challenges rather than “repair” their positions in such problems later. In short, social investment policies are characterized as a predictor rather than a recoverer. Mainstream social investment argument is that redesigned welfare state model more focuses on work and care reconciliation policy as strengthening parental employment in the labour market is an important factor to exit poverty and support families especially mothers. On the other hand, human capital measures such as education and trainings improve life course employability, particularly for market outsiders as well as human investment guarantees better job security in today`s more flexible job market.
In reality, an economic development and employment is friendly to each other. Thus, income comes from the market through employment as a paid employment is foundation of household welfare. Likewise, a welfare is purchased in the markets. Arguably, unemployment leads to the poverty and social exclusion in the societies. Hereby, work based policy regarded as a sustainable anti-poverty strategy. The welfare states in order to guarantee households` net income and well-being in the post industrialized labour market have turned to invest in preventive measures such as human capital. The human capital (cognitive development and educational attainments) is a must for the dynamic and competitive knowledge economy. Educational expenditures yield on a dividend because they may/make citizens more productive but we need to push the logic much further (Andersen, 2002). In fact, social investment state by being more female and child care policy oriented predicts an importance of the education for a well-being of society and more developed economy in the future. Thus, employment policies need to link with family policies to be more effective in response to the unemployment, poverty and social exclusion. Social investment state as a new shape of the active employment policies invests in education particularly of women and children to prevent unemployment and poverty from the beginning. One hand, addresses to the ageing problem of European societies social investment strategies aim to mobilize motherhood with an employment. On the other hand, by promoting family polices, social investment strategy directs to reduce child poverty and safeguard child welfare in the line with better social and economic conditions of childhood.
What is certain that, social investment state implies human capital strategy. To increase an employment and long term productivity of individuals, social investment policies interchanged with the provision of social insurance. In other words, the social service policies took over the place of the cash benefit oriented policies. It is probably fair to say, the human capital strategies link social investment policies to employment outcomes. Simply, to see the correlation between the social investment paradigm and employment, human capital policy measures (education and trainings) are needed to be checked as a direct labour market value. Since they are the most effective activation measures in skill investment to respond to the knowledge economy, more educated and skilled manpower boosts the labour supply in turn results income equality which is a traditional goal of the social democracy. In this context, social investment state is addressed to reach high quality employment by its human investment orientation. As Andersen, (2002) argues, “We no longer live in a world in which low-skilled workers can support the entire family. The basic requisite for a good life is increasingly strong cognitive skills and professional qualifications”.
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